Kobe, Lakers have earned right to have down year

I’d like to get something off my chest. I’d like to say it without a horde of purple-and-gold-bedecked Lakers fans clubbing me to death.

I won’t be disappointed if Kobe Bryant doesn’t suit up for the Lakers’ opening night game on Oct. 29. I won’t be surprised, either. I might even be pleased.

None of that has anything to do with any feelings I have toward Bryant’s team, or Bryant himself. In fact, my statement stems more from the fact that I’d like to see one of the greatest players of this generation come back, and I’d like to see it happen responsibly and sustainably.

I know, I know. I’ve probably lost you by now. You’re probably all assembling your horde and heading my direction, but hear me out. (This will be my refrain as you come for me, to silence my dissenting keyboard.)

I’m just being healthily skeptical. I’m thinking about Bryant’s wellbeing and the relative lack of importance of a few games, or even of a few months of games. I’m thinking that it would be great to see him playing at a high level in April rather than watching him force things in November, and that there might be a tradeoff between the two if he rushes.

You see, I’m the daughter of a surgeon and a nurse. That not only makes me a skeptic, but it also makes me the ultimate medical lurker; I know far more than I should about doctor-ing, and I sometimes like to talk about it more than I should. It’s a funny thing, having a doctor for a dad. For instance, I sprained my wrist in first grade, and he needed a week of me complaining before he assented to an X-ray. Once the tests revealed it was sprained, though, and badly, I was told I’d be in that sling for what seemed like forever. There were no shortcuts, he and his buddy, an orthopedic surgeon, told me. Injuries take a certain amount of time to heal, and you just have to accept that.

I’m no Kobe Bryant, and my six-year-old wrist was no 34-year-old Achilles tendon, but maybe that mindset explains why I think how I think. Maybe it explains why I just assume that Bryant needs his time, that time heals. And in some ways, what I think doesn’t matter. It’s what I know.

What I know is this: ruptured Achilles tendons are serious, even devastating. They end some careers. Others, they irreversibly alter, and for the worst. Even so, it’s possible to return, probable for someone like Bryant.

What I know is the Achilles tendon is this little rubber band of sinew named as such because an injury to it caused the death of the greatest warrior in Homer’s Iliad; according to the myth, his father was a demigod, his mother a nymph. (By comparison, Bryant’s father’s is nicknamed “Jellybean.”) In less dramatic and fantastical terms, this inches-long tendon is responsible for relieving a stress load of nearly four times a person’s body weight while walking and nearly twice that weight while running.

In other words, it’s important. This tiny, insignificant-looking little chunk of your heel, to which you’ve probably never given more than three minutes of thought, could snap and essentially cripple you at any moment.

And that is why I’m fine if Bryant sits on the bench on Oct. 29, or even on Nov. 29 or Dec. 29. I’ve already accepted that he probably won’t be the explosive player he was before the injury – remember, people: he’s 35 – but I’d like to see him play at a high level again. I’d like to think that when he retires, it’s on his own terms. I hope that whatever decline unfolds will have nothing to do with him rushing back in six months – if he chooses to – from an injury that can require up to nine, especially at his age, especially with the intensity with which he plays.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Bryant will be healed and ready to go by mid-fall. That would be great for him, great for the Lakers, great for basketball. However, that’s a rapid recovery by a man who’s older than nearly every other NBA player who’s come back from the injury. I’m not his doctor, but his doctors also haven’t spoken too much publicly, and certainly not about a specific return date. Neither has Bryant, for that matter; he knows it’s too soon to do anything more than give noncommittal answers about his return date.

Kobe Bryant has nothing to prove. Neither do the Lakers, really, not with those 16 championship banners. To act as if even in a down year, they need to win, as if even though Bryant’s suffered a devastating injury, he needs to be back as soon as possible, is ridiculous. The Lakers have earned their down year, if that’s what this ends up being. Bryant has earned the right to recover at whatever pace will make him better and fully healed and something approaching the player he was.