What next for the Lakers and Bryant following his injury?
With the Los Angeles Lakers en route to a critical win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday night, their play-off ambitions were seemingly edging closer to coming to fruition.
Having maintained their one-game advantage over the Utah Jazz with just two games remaining in the regular season, the franchise was on course to secure what had seemed earlier in the season as an improbable play-off berth.
However, following the news that Kobe Bryant will now miss the conclusion of their play-off race as well as the post season with a torn Achilles tendon, the Lakers now face many questions over their future.
The first of which centres around the player himself. When will Bryant return from the injury? Initial reports suggest that he should expect a 6-9 month lay-off, which would put his appearance in the season opener next year in jeopardy.
However, considering the ‘Mamba’ is famed for his will and determination, it would come as little surprise should he be suiting up at an early stage of next season. Having admitted that this is the worst injury he has sustained in his 17-year career, it will take a great deal of that spirit he demonstrates on the court each night to overcome such a blow at this stage in his career.
Considering he is 34, will Bryant return the same player? At this point he will be fully focused on returning and ensuring that the Achilles tendon is fully healed before thinking about how it will effect his game.
Bryant has revealed previously that he may retire at the end of next season, or he may continue for another five years. He will not have factored in the injury at that stage of his thinking, and it remains to be seen whether he can return to the form he was displaying prior to Friday night.
Switching to the Lakers, can they make the play-offs without him? Arguably no, considering they take on the second seed in the West in the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, before James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
Bryant was averaging 27 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game this season, and that is a big portion for the remaining individuals on the roster to cover. The Lakers will undoubtedly need a huge showing from the crowd at the Staples Center if they are to now defy the odds with both their games at home.
Much will also depend on the Utah Jazz, who face the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies, but also have the head-to-head tiebreaker to their advantage.
Should the Lakers make the post season, how far can they go without Bryant? With a potential first-round play-off clash with either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Spurs, potentially not very far at all.
Having experienced a rocky season from the start, they could be made to suffer for their low seeding, and will be firm outsiders to upset the likes of the Thunder and Spurs. It is not beyond the realms of possibility considering the talent on their roster, but without the Mamba it will be difficult.
Lastly, in Bryant’s absence, can Dwight Howard take control of this team? The former Orlando Magic man has had his fair share of problems in LA this season, with injuries and fall-outs ensuring that he has yet to win the hearts of the Lakers faithful.
In recent weeks he has improved vastly, posting up big numbers on the boards as well as getting his offensive game going in tandem with Pau Gasol. It is a huge mantel to pick up from Bryant, and there are still doubts over whether Howard can handle it. He has little time to prove he can, and will need to come up with the answers against Tim Duncan and the Spurs on Sunday night.