Lakers trainer Gary Vitti thinks Bryant will need at least six to nine months for recovery from the most serious injury of his 17-year NBA career. Given Bryant’s history of swift recovery from countless minor injuries, Vitti and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak both believe the 34-year-old guard could be back for their season opener in the fall.
“I think that’s a realistic goal for him, based on what he was talking about this morning,” Kupchak said at the Lakers’ training complex after visiting Bryant at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.
Bryant completely tore his left Achilles tendon late in the Lakers’ 118-116 win over Golden State on Friday night, falling to the hardwood after pushing off his planted foot in an ordinary move toward the hoop. Although he stayed in the game to hit two tying free throws with 3:08 to play, Bryant’s season was over.
Bryant’s foot will be immobilized for about a month to prevent him from stretching out the tendon, followed by a lengthy rehabilitation process. Nobody knows how the injury will affect Bryant’s play, but his decision to have surgery less than 24 hours after getting hurt suggests he’s determined to get back on top swiftly.
“He’s already taken the challenge,” Vitti said. “For us, it’s going to be trying to slow him down.”
And while it’s far too early to predict exactly when Bryant will be back, the Lakers say they wouldn’t consider parting ways with their franchise player, who will make nearly $30.5 million next year. If the Lakers used the amnesty clause on Bryant in early July, they could save possibly $80 million in luxury taxes.
“That’s not even something that we’ve discussed,” Kupchak said. “That’s the furthest thing from our mind right now.”
While the rest of the Lakers prepared for their final two regular-season games in a tumultuous season, Bryant’s injury left many Lakers fans wondering whether the club had done enough to protect Bryant from himself.
The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history has logged heavy minutes all season on his high-mileage legs, basically dictating his own playing time while the Lakers chased a playoff spot. He has played far more minutes than any other NBA player over 30, including nearly 46 minutes per game in the seven games leading up to Friday night.