"When something like this happens, everybody wants to know why and there's not always a reason why. If you look at our season, it's been a nightmare," said longtime trainer Gary Vitti after practice on Saturday. "We had a player come in with a surgery, which was Dwight Howard. Then we had Steve Nash break his leg. Then we had Steve Blake have an abdominal surgery. Then we had Jordan Hill with a hip surgery. Then we had Metta (World Peace) with a knee surgery. We also had Dwight with a (torn) labrum in his shoulder. Antawn Jamison will have surgery after the season is over on his wrist. So, when you try to look at the whys, it's bad luck."
And let's not forget Bryant's ankle sprain that was supposedly so severe he was done for the season, swearing vengeance on the opponent who caused him to fall. Next thing we knew, he was out on the court, playing. Now if his ankle had been that bad, he should have truly been done for the season. Perhaps with a weak ankle, Bryant put himself in jeopardy for further damage to his foot.
Vitti said Bryant could be back for the start of the 2013-2014 season. "That's the plan," Vitti said. Bryant told Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak as much. "Speaking to him this morning, that was certainly the goal. I think it would be aggressive to think he could be ready for training camp... (but for the season opener) I think that's a goal. I think that's a realistic goal for him," Kupchak said.
Bryant fell to the floor with 3:08 remaining in the fourth quarter Friday night while being guarded by Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes. Bryant had played every minute of the game up to that, scoring 32 points, including back-to-back 3 pointers to tie the game with 3:45 left. "I made a move that I make a million times and it just popped," Bryant said.
Bryant asked Barnes if he kicked him in the leg, and Barnes said he hadn't. "I was just hoping that it wasn't what I knew it was. Just trying to walk it off, hoping that the sensation would come back, but no such luck," Bryant said. After a timeout, Bryant went back in the game and hit both of his free throws.
When asked what his next step would be, Bryant replied, "MRI, surgery, then recovery. I was really tired, man. Just tired in the locker room and dejected thinking about this mountain to overcome. I mean, this is a long process and wasn't sure I could do it. Then your kids walk in and you're like, 'I need to set an example. Daddy is going to be fine.' I can do it. Work hard and just go from there."
But Bryant let loose his frustration on Facebook Saturday, posting on his page, "All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I've done a million times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen?!? Makes no damn sense." He vowed to come back to the court, saying "One day, the beginning of a new career will commence. Today is NOT that day."
Pau Gasol, who has had foot troubles of his own this season, believes that Bryant will come back better than ever. "He's a guy that when you put something in front of him, he'll get it done." Gasol said. "He will do it. He will put everything he's got on line for it."
Kupchak visited Bryant before his surgery and said the 34 year old was in good spirits. "He actually gave me a message to pass to the guys on the team, most of which I can't share with you right here, but it was a positive message as you might imagine," Kupchak said. "Very motivational."
Howard addressed the team in practice with his own message. "I just told them that they put this team together for a reason and we all know how to play basketball. We've all done special things in our career before and it's time to do them again. We've all been blessed to play with Kobe but we all have talent, too, and we have to show it," Howard said.
Bryant is set to make $30.4 million next season in the last year of his contract. The Lakers have an amnesty clause available and must use it during the July 1-9 window set by the league. They could potentially save $60 million in luxury tax penalties if they decide to use it on Bryant. Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.Com that the Lakers are scanning the available pool of free agents and may add a wing player to add depth while Bryant is out.
Bryant played an average of 45.7 minutes in his last seven games and was asked if the extended playing time left him vulnerable to injury. "Who knows. It was all necessary. It's just a freak situation, I guess."
Lakers and Bryant's longtime trainer Tim Grover shot down that theory, saying, "I'd be shocked if the minutes had anything to do with it. An Achilles can happen stepping off a sidewalk. This is not Kobe's fault, because he pushed himself. This is not the coaches fault. People get hurt. An Achilles is just one of those things that just happens. You can't blame anyone on that."
Kupchak had a conversation with Bryant recently about his playing time. "I spoke to Kobe about ten days ago about the 48-minute thing or the playing a lot of minutes and I said, 'I have concerns,'" Kupchak said. "His message to me was, 'Mitch, I hear what you're saying, but we got to get into the playoffs and I'm playing and there's nothing you can do about it.'"
Reference: ESPN and ABC.
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