Kobe Bryant, who isn't going to participate in the preseason (something we all knew), is back in Germany getting additional platelet-rich plasma treatment (Regenokine to you and me) on his right knee. This via Yahoo! Sports.
“The Lakers issued a statement on Thursday indicating that Bryant had left the country for an unspecified procedure and would be gone from training camp for several days,” writes Adrian Wojnarowski. “Part of the thinking with pushing back the knee procedure until now, one source said, is the belief it will give him maximum benefit once he's able to return to play this season. It is still unclear how much longer he'll be rehabbing his Achilles before he's cleared to play for the Lakers this season.”
Or maybe he waited because he couldn't get an appointment?
Nobody at practice Thursday seemed to think it was a big deal, and it probably isn't. But Bryant's trip to the great motherland of zeppelins is a reminder Kobe's health questions extend beyond a reconstructed Achilles tendon. The dude is still 35, still has 50,000-plus regular season and playoff minutes. He still has chronic knees problems, tender ankles, and myriad other physical issues requiring attention. When a player suffers major injury, the risk to other body parts is high because an athlete's kinetic balance can easily get out of whack. Bryant, as Gary Vitti described him recently, is like a Ferrari. The whole thing has to be operating at peak levels, or things — very expensive things — go wrong.
So we all wait, hanging on every detail. Not just because he's Kobe Bryant and watching a guy with insane drive and ludicrously high standards work to overcome one of the most serious injuries in sports at, by industry standards, a near-geriatric age makes for incredible theater. It's a challenge big enough Bryant, already with five titles, spotty prospects for more, and a suite awaiting him at basketball's Mount Olympus, went from “Maybe I'll play one more” to “I'm here for another three”. But it's also because virtually everything for the Lakers hinges on the results of his comeback. Their prospects for this season, for sure (though even a pristine Bryant isn't leading this team to a title), but more importantly the upcoming rebuild. So much of the team's reconstruction, from the amount of available space to sign free agents to the types of guys they might be able to attract, fundamentally starts with questions about Kobe's future.
A couple seasons back, the Lakers faced a huge decision on Andrew Bynum as a centerpiece (see what I did there?) of the franchise's future. He was a GM's nightmare. Tantalizing talent mitigated by a brutal medical history. If he stayed healthy, he'd produce and command serious dollars as a free agent. Still, you knew somewhere in that hypothetical long-term deal Bynum would lose time to injury. Ultimately, the Lakers did the best possible thing, trading him away and making that choice someone else's problem. Even with Dwight Howard having left, the Lakers are still better off for having made the deal. That's not an option with Bryant, and should hard choices become necessary they'll be approximately seven zillion times more emotionally charged relative to anything the Lakers experienced with Bynum.
The enemy is ambiguity. On one end of the spectrum, Kobe returns at some point during the first six weeks of the season and as the year goes along, proves himself to be an altered-but-still-elite player. On the other, he comes back and for whatever reason just can't get right physically and is unable to clear his self-imposed standards bar. If that happens — and it's not what I'm expecting — Kobe will walk away.*
It's all the possibilities in the middle that become potentially problematic for all parties involved. Recovery is slow and spotty. Other nagging injuries pop up… but Kobe still plays like Kobe over stretches. That type of thing. What happens then? How much does Kobe ask for over the summer? How many years? What would the Lakers commit?
Hopefully Bryant comes back strong, and everything works itself out. I'm bullish on his recovery and certainly after last season, the Lakers could use a little good fortune. But allowing the mind to wander a little, if sailing isn't so smooth, the test faced by L.A.'s Dr. Buss-less front office this offseason will pale in comparison to anything seen with Howard. If nothing else, it reminds fans of how significant an obstacle Bryant is working to overcome.
*For what it's worth, even if he comes back and looks pretty good, I think Bryant, more in tune with his body than basically any human on Earth, will know before the rest of us if “it” isn't there, and isn't coming back. I can totally see a scenario where he finishes the year, and surprises people by retiring.
CORRECTION: In the original post, I referred to the procedure as Orthokene. As Bleacher Report's Will Carroll noted, the procedure Bryant underwent is called Regenokine.