Charles Barkley argued that Kobe Bryant's knee injury should end his season, that it will limit the type of player he will be once he comes back, and that it just might dash the Lakers' dreams of attracting LeBron James as a free agent next summer.
The TNT commentator and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer offered that serious of pessimistic proclamations on Thursday in response to the news that the 35-year-old Bryant will be sidelined for six weeks after suffering a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee.
"Kobe Bryant shouldn't play any more this year," Barkley said. "They should shut him down. ... With or without him, the Lakers suck either way. It's not like they're world-beaters. When he comes back in six weeks, they'll be even more out of it. If they're smart [they should shut him down]. They're giving the guy $50 million for the next couple of years. Best-case scenario, they're an eighth seed."
The Lakers are 12-13 on the season and have been hit with a rash of injuries to Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar. L.A. currently sits in the West's 11th spot, 2.5 games out of the playoff picture. Back in November, Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension that ensured he will be the league’s highest-paid player through the 2015-16 season. He had made just six appearances since returning from an Achilles tear that ended his 2012-13 season before he suffered the non-contact knee injury against the Grizzlies on Tuesday. Bryant's current recovery timeline puts his return date in late-January, more than two weeks before the All-Star break.
Bryant has played 45,567 minutes over 1,245 regular season games and an additional 8,641 minutes over 220 playoff games during his 18-year career. Those miles, Bryant's age and his recent injuries spell the end of Bryant's reign as a dominant player, Barkley argued to TNT's Ernie Johnson.
"Kobe Bryant is never going to be the same again," Barkley said. "Kobe Bryant has probably played 23 or 24 seasons, if you add up playoff games. There's no way you can blow out your Achilles -- this notion that he's going to come back and be this great, great player, that's asinine, Ernie. He can be a good, solid player. You can forget, 'This guy has the will power.' Age ain't got nothing to do with will power. ... What's that little green snake's name? He's a little [garter] snake right now. I love you, Kobe. He's not going to be no damn mamba. He can't strike at you from a distance any more. He's going to have to crawl over to bite you."
Surely aware that such talk would be coming his way, Bryant struck a preemptive blow against the skeptics on Thursday, prior to Barkley's comments.
"Only an idiot would [doubt me]," Bryant told Yahoo Sports.
After the Lakers and Bryant agreed to the lucrative extension, both sides stressed the fact that L.A. still had sufficient cap room to sign a max-level free agent during the July 2014 free agent period. Next summer's crop could include the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. L.A. has been linked to interest in both James and Anthony in ongoing rumors and speculation.
James posted a show of support for Bryant on Twitter on Thursday.
"Yo Kobe Bryant, Mamba get well soon homie!" James wrote. Informed of James' message, Barkley joked: "That's subliminal messages. 'There's no chance I'm going to L.A. next year.' That's what that really means."