The Lakers announced Friday that Kobe Bryant will be sidelined for at least another three weeks due to ongoing pain, swelling and soreness in his injured left knee.
The 16-time All-Star guard hasn't taken the court since Dec. 17, when he sustained a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee. The Lakers announced after the injury that Bryant would be sidelined for at least six weeks. Then, in late January, the organization said that Bryant would be out through the All-Star break with ongoing pain and swelling, and that he was limited to non-weight bearing exercises during his rehabilitation.
This latest update pushes Bryant's earliest return date back to mid-March, roughly one month before the end of the 2013-14 regular season. The 19-36 Lakers have the second-worst record in the Western Conference and are 13.5 games out of the playoff picture. Bryant is rapidly approaching the point where risking a return this season simply isn't worth it. In truth, he's probably there already.
"It’s coming slowly, it’s coming slowly," Bryant said of his progress, during an All-Star Weekend press conference. "I’m optimistic coming out of the break I’ll have some improvements once I get back to L.A., do a couple follow-ups and then go from there. But it’s been a slow process. ... [I will] just stick to the script, just try to get better and go from there. I just try to focus, keep my blinders on and do what I have to do, and not worry about too much what’s going on around you."
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak made it clear on Friday that there is no rush.
"We’re hopeful that he can get back on the court at some point and do that," Kupchak said, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. "We’re not going to push him to get back. I don’t see why you would. We’ve made a commitment to him for two more years."
The five-time champion appeared in just six games for the Lakers after missing training camp, the preseason and the opening portion of the 2013-14 regular season as he recovered from a torn Achilles suffered in April 2013. His knee injury forced the league to name Pelicans forward Anthony Davis as an All-Star Game replacement for the Western Conference roster, and Rockets guard James Harden filled Bryant's spot in the West's starting lineup.
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. Bryant, 35, is averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game this season.