Kobe Bryant’s injury puts Lakers’ future in jeopardy

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will be out about six weeks after breaking a bone in his knee.

Can we just fast forward to the summer of 2014 in Laker Land please?

That’s when the real intrigue — and hopefully a fully healthy Kobe Bryant — will return again.

Will the Los Angeles Lakers land a top-tier free agent to pair with increasingly brittle Bryant with all that salary cap space they’ve been protecting? Will they nab an elite draft prospect from this star-studded college crop after this torturous season in which Bryant had to persevere through two personal comebacks and –as the odds appear now — his Lakers floundered for a good cause without him? Will the Lakers ultimately regret giving Bryant that $48.5 million extension for the next two years when they could have waited until this summer to see how his first comeback went?

Those are the only questions that matter now that Bryant finds himself staring at a second rehab nightmare.

There’s no way to know what Bryant’s latest injury means just yet, beyond the daunting fact that a 35-year-old who came off one of the most brutal injuries (his April Achilles tendon tear) in existence six games ago will now be out at least six weeks with a fracture in his left knee. And for anyone who’s not familiar with one of these rare fractures of the lateral tibial plateau, consider this: Former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming, who certainly carried a much heavier load, once suffered the same injury in mid-December 2006, and we didn’t see him again until early March 2007.

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It’s bad enough for Bryant and the Lakers on its own but made so much worse when reviewing the calamity-filled context that surrounds him. Point guard Steve Nash (nerve root irritation) was supposed to be back by now but is expected to miss four more weeks as his career also appears to be in the balance. Point guards Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake remain out with injuries, too. Pau Gasol isn’t playing like Pau Gasol anymore. With all that, the Lakers suddenly look like a prime candidate to toss in the purple and gold towel from here on out.

That winter weather finally made its way to Los Angeles. And baby is it cold outside the Staples Center.

“It’s too bad,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters at the team’s practice Thursday about Bryant. “You hate it for Kobe. He worked so hard to get back. But he’ll be back. He’ll be back in six weeks, and we’ll deal with it and weather the storm until he gets back.”.

D’Antoni was asked if Bryant may have come back too early from his Achilles tendon tear, that it was in the same leg and if that could have played a part in this injury. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it (could) happen at anytime. That’s part of it. There’s always a risk until he gets completely used to playing, but the doctors are all over it. That’s just bad luck.”.

On the question of whether Bryant (and the Lakers, for that matter) might be better suited waiting until next season to return, D’Antoni found humor at an otherwise-humorless time: “I wouldn’t want to approach that with Kobe. You could, with a 10-foot pole,” he said, nodding toward the questioner. “He’ll do what he needs to be ready. He’s too much of a competitor (to sit out when healthy). Now if he decides to do that, there’s a discussion. But I think he’ll be back in six weeks, and he’ll be hunting for some bear.”.

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Bryant had been playing point guard, so the Lakers have signed former North Carolina star Kendall Marshall from the NBA Development League, Marshall’s agent, Jeff Austin, told USA TODAY Sports in a text message Thursday night. Marshall was drafted 13th overall in 2012 by the Phoenix Suns but failed to crack the team’s rotation as a rookie before being traded and cut. He has averaged 19.4 points, 9.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game for the Delaware 87ers in the D-League.

The Lakers still may have some entertaining moments in them this season — their 10-9 start without Bryant showed they were capable of that much. But beyond Bryant, these are not players that are part of their future. These are players filling time while Bryant and Nash keep fighting Father Time, and while the Lakers wait and wonder whether the summer will bring the sort of good tidings and cheer that this winter did not.

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