After Kobe Bryant underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn right rotator cuff back in January, the Los Angeles Lakers laid out anine-month timeline for his return to the court. His return to shooting drills last month and general manager Mitch Kupchak’s comments last week sparked optimism among Lakers fans that he’d be back in the mix for L.A.’s season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 28, and it looks like the Hollywood faithful will get their wish.
Bryant’s recovery from his latest devastating late-career injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, is complete — and he currently has no physical limitations as he gears up for what he expects will be his final NBA season.
Bryant has been medically cleared for all basketball activities, according to league sources.
After his body has taken him to basketball hell and back over and over in recent years, that’s as much as Bryant could have hoped would happen for him this offseason.
The potential for one last Kobe Bryant hurrah is possible.
As Forum Blue and Gold’s Darius Soriano notes, the fact that this outcome was expected based on the initial recovery timeline and the periodic updates offered throughout “does not make the news any less important.” It’s impossible to separate Bryant’s absence for the bulk of the past two campaigns — he’s played just 41 of a possible 164 contests — from the reality that these have been far and away the Lakers’ two worst seasons since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. To what extent he could carry an underwhelming cast of characters as he moved past age 35 into NBA senescence remained a subject of much debate, but without the legendary offensive star in the mix, Byron Scott’s club seemed simply toothless, feckless and, more than anything, hopeless.
Bryant’s return — along with the presence of supremely confident No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell, a new beginning for injured-before-he-got-started 2014 lottery pick Julius Randle, and the import of players like defensive centerpiece Roy Hibbert and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams — doesn’t turn the Lakers into a title contender; the team’s overall talent level just isn’t commensurate with the best teams in the league, and there’s only so much of a burden Bryant can bear at age 37, after all these breaks and tears. But it does provide hope: for a more competitive product on the floor, for more scintillating “turn back the clock” individual moments authored by future Hall of Famer Bryant, and for something worth watching and celebrating as one of the most gifted and singular characters in basketball history wages yet another war — maybe his last, maybe not — against the forces martialed against him and his brothers in purple-and-gold.
The hard business of winning that war will come soon enough. For now, all we know is that he’s once again ready to get back on the battlefield; for now, that’s enough.