Should Kobe return?
Not enough reasons to risk setback
This is a no-brainer. The Lakers entered the All-Star break with an 18-35 record. Assuming the front office possesses common sense and decent negotiating skills, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Steve Blake and/or Jordan Hill (among perhaps even others) should be playing elsewhere after Thursday. The season is a lost cause. Period. Thus, Kobe Bryant suiting up is pointless on several counts.(
First, his presence could result in a few (and I emphasize, few) scattered wins, and pingpong balls provide more utility moving forward than ultimately meaningless victories would. Guys will play hard no matter what, but, pragmatically speaking, there's no reason to potentially undermine this path toward rebuilding.
That's especially the case when you consider risk vs. reward. Even before the Achilles and knee injuries, Kobe's body had been trending in the wrong direction the past few seasons. At the risk of sounding morbid, every time The Mamba steps on the court, he's vulnerable to a new ailment or recurrence. That's not to say Kobe should be treated with kid gloves through 2016, but is it really worth taking a chance this season with no tangible gain? Live to fight another day.
The Lakers don't need a look "under the hood," so to speak, because what difference would it make? Kobe's here either way. (And at a high price tag, I might add, so it's worth protecting that investment.) I've always imagined Bryant's presence as more hindrance than asset toward recruiting free agents, but, for the ones interested, 10-15 games from Kobe might be somewhat reassuring but wouldn't change the obvious truth that his health will be a wild card until retirement. "Free Agent X" will either take a chance or he won't.
The Lakers and Kobe, however, shouldn't take any.
Time off could work against Kobe
For many, when Kobe Bryant told the assembled media horde at All-Star Weekend that he didn't know when, or even if, he'd be back this season, it was a relief. This team is bad, and it isn't going anywhere save high in the lottery.
So, let him sit out the rest of the year no matter how his rehab goes. Come back strong in the fall, fully rehabilitated and ready to go. Sounds perfectly reasonable.
But is it helpful?
Although it seems nice in theory to shut things down so he can come back healthy and fresh next fall, at his age, with his mileage, is Kobe really going to be any more immune to injury in October because he skipped the last 15-ish games this season? It might even work against him, if what amounts to a full year away from the contact and grind of basketball takes his mind and body too far out of rhythm.
At his age, cranking up the machinery after a long time cold isn't so easy.
Really, what we're talking about here is something designed to make Kobe fans feel better, but the reality is Bryant will never again be on the good side of the injury actuarial tables. So, if his doctors decide at some point between now and mid-April that he's good to go -- that every "i" has been dotted, every "t" crossed and the whole thing has been proofread multiple times for grammatical errors, that he's no more risking the next two seasons and the $48.5 million invested in him by playing than he would be by taking part in one of his grueling workouts -- then Kobe should play.
As he'll tell you, this is his job.