The expected news finally became official on Wednesday. No, not Phil Jackson to the Knicks, though Carmelo Anthony is doing his level-best to confirm that rumor. The Lakers shut down Kobe Bryant for the remainder of the season, as first reported by Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who is recovering from a fractured lateral tibial plateau of his left knee, was examined today by team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo, who determined that Bryant’s injury has still not healed. With this diagnosis, Bryant will not return to play this season, it was announced today by the team.
“With Kobe’s injury still not healed, the amount of time he’d need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we’ve simply run out of time for him to return,” said Athletic Trainer Gary Vitti. “However, Kobe will have the entire offseason to heal, rehab and prepare, and we look forward to him being 100% for the start of next season.”
“Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I’ve received from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp,” said Bryant.
Bryant reportedly wanted to come back this season — and would have fought even harder to make his return had the Lakers been in playoff position, per Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.* But the Lakers were able to convince Kobe that missing the remainder of the year was better for whatever longevity he might have left in his career.
*Then again, there’s the possibility that Kobe was just trolling “Oh, yeah, I’ll totally be back for the playoffs. Right, guys? The playoffs? You guys are going to make the playoffs this year, right?”
He’s putting up an eminent, valiant front by talking about the playoffs, and I certainly don’t doubt that Bryant thinks that any team he’s playing for is a postseason contender. But in the twilight of his playing days, the question of playoff success is going to take a backseat to individual milestones. For one, barring a major, Lakers-esque acquisition, Los Angeles isn’t going to be very good in the few years that Kobe might have left, in part thanks to the albatross of an extension he signed this season.
The other thing, though, is that Bryant is really close to a lot of arbitrary career top-5s and top-10s — not to mention his quest to top the all-time scoring list. Depending on how many games he has left in his legs — and what caliber of game he’s capable of playing — some of these goals are more attainable than others. But all of them are within sight, to varying degrees of resolution.
We’ll start with the big one, since everything else is window dressing. And because basketball is basketball, these lists reflect the all-time NBA and ABA combined leaderboards. No NBA-specific bias is allowed here.
Regular Season Points, Career Leader
- Current leader: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points)
- Kobe’s current standing: 4th (31,700)
It can be fun to pretend, but let’s be realistic: Kobe Bryant is not going to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He’s 6,687 points behind; at his career scoring rate of 25.5 points per game, he’d need 262 games to tie Kareem, or 3.2 seasons of playing all 82 games. Adjust that rate way down for a lower scoring average, the possibility of further injury and the likely need for rest during the season, and it’s a safer bet that Bryant doesn’t even close half the gap.
With that being the case, Kobe will have to settle for knocking of Michael Jordan, who is currently third on the list with 32,292 points — or just 592 more than Bryant.
Regular Season Field Goals Made, Career Leader
- Current Leader: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (15,837 field goals)
- Kobe’s current standing: 7th (11,055)
Another Kareem record that Kobe stands no chance of taking down, but there’s a decent chance he ends up cracking the top-5. Dr. Julius Erving holds that spot at 11,818 made field goals, leaving Kobe 763 shots shy of tying the Good Doctor. If he can play for two seasons, sixty games each, he’d need to knock down 6.35 shots per game. That would be a 20% increase from his injury-ravaged 2013-14 campaign, in which Bryant hit just 5.2 attempts per game, which seems reasonable, if perhaps slightly optimistic.
Between Dr. J and Kobe lies Shaquille O’Neal, whose 11,330 buckets give him a 275 field goal advantage of Bryant. Even at his deflated rate from this season, Kobe would need to play in just 55 games to tie Shaq.
Regular Season Free Throws Made, Career Leader
- Current Leader: Karl Malone (9.787 free throws)
- Kobe’s current standing: 3rd (7,950)
Kobe has a secure grip on third place for free throws made; the next closest active player, Paul Pierce, trails Bryant by 1,317 freebies. With just 50 more attempts, though, Kobe reaches 8,000, a nice, round number that makes for easy tidbits like, “Kobe Bryant is one of only 3 players in professional basketball history to make 8,000 career free throws,” even though he’s currently one of only 3 players in professional basketball history to make 7,700 or more career free throws. Something about all those zeroes, though, speaks to us.
And speaking of round numbers…
Regular Season Turnovers, Career Leader
- Current Leader: Karl Malone (4,524 turnovers)
- Kobe’s current standing: 7th (3,753)
With the way he was turning over the ball when he came back this season (5.7 turnovers per game, 6.9 per 36 minutes), Bryant’s probably going to top 4,000 turnovers for his career. Even if he plays just 60 games the rest of his career, averaging just over 4 giveaways per game would get him over the hump.
He might be able to balance it out, however, by moving into the top-30 in…
Regular Season Assists, Career Leader
- Current Leader: John Stockton (15,806 assists)
- Kobe’s current standing: 33rd (5,925)
Point Kobe’s got this one covered. Hitting that magic 6,000 number would move Bryant into 30th place all-time. Another 238 dimes would move him into the top-25 and into exclusive company. The only players in the top-25 of both points and assists: Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. And just for fun, if Kobe were to enter the top-25 in assists, he’d knock West out of that lofty perch.
Regular Season Minutes Played, Career Leader
- Current Leader: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57,446 minutes played)
- Kobe’s current standing: 13th (45, 567)
Another possible top-10 for Kobe, assuming he has ~100 games or so left in the tank. Artis Gilmore is currently 10th, with 47,134 minutes played. That’s a gap of roughly 20 minutes per game over an 82-game season. If Bryant can play out the length of his deal, he should hit this one in stride.
Finally, one leaderboard that actually coincides with Kobe’s belief that the Lakers can be a playoff team:
Playoff Minutes Played, Career Leader
- Current Leader: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (8,851 minutes played)
- Kobe’s current standing: 2nd (8,641)
Los Angeles is going to need to make the playoffs twice, realistica…
Nah, I can’t finish that sentence. But good luck, Kobe! You’ve got a lot of leaderboarding to do once you’re healthy.
Statistical support courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com