NEW ORLEANS – The specter of Kobe Bryant missing the rest of the season grew Sunday.
The Lakers star said his recovery from a fractured left knee is “coming slowly,” and the usual defiant tone about a 2013-14 return was noticeably replaced by a non-committal response.
“I haven’t been thinking about it,” Bryant told NBA.com when asked if feels he has played his last game of the season. “I keep my blinders on and just try to get healthy.”
Asked if was as confident as before he would play again before next season, he replied, “I’m in the same emotional state as I was before. Just keep my blinders on and just keep on working and just go from there.”
Bryant missed the first 19 games of the season while recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, returned Dec. 8 against the Raptors, then fractured the knee Dec. 17 at Memphis after just six appearances at 29.5 minutes per. The original timetable was that he would miss approximately six weeks, or until the final days of January.
On Jan. 28, though, the Lakers announced Bryant still had pain and swelling in the knee and that his workouts would consist mostly of riding a stationary bike, part of a program of non-weight bearing exercises. That ruled him out of the All-Star game, after being voted a Western Conference starter by fans.
“It’s coming slowly,” he told a press conference at Smoothie King Center before the All-Star game. “It’s coming slowly. I’m optimistic coming into out of the break that I will have some improvements once I get back to L.A. and do a couple follow-ups and then go from there. But it’s been a slow process.”
The Lakers, tied with the Kings for last place in the Western Conference at 18-35, have 29 games remaining. With Bryant still unable to say when he plans to jump into practice, let alone actual action, the question becomes when he crosses the line of no return. At some point, and with L.A.’s spot in the standings, the decision has to be made whether it makes more sense for Bryant to aim for 2014-15 rather rejoin the team for 15 or 20 games this season.
The uncertainty comes with the trade deadline on Thursday, leaving the possibility that longtime Bryant favorite Pau Gasol will be traded and the Lakers’ roster the rest of the way might be an unknown.
“I hope not,” Bryant told NBA.com when asked if he thinks he has played his last game with Gasol. “I hope not. Big, big fan. You know how much I love Pau.”
Bryant also reiterated, though, that he will not be involved in front-office decisions, this week or moving into a summer with the Lakers hoping to be major players to re-shape the roster. He said he simply wants to know about any major decision before it happens rather than have to learn about it at the same time as the public.