Health Remains Concern For Bryant, Lakers
You’ll have to forgive Los Angeles Lakers fans for being a bit on edge these days, as the team heads into the 2013-14 NBA season with a laundry list of questions and uncertainty regarding the future; both in the immediate and long-term. On the heels of learning about Kobe Bryant’s additional PRP procedure on his chronically troublesome right knee, there are some that already worry this news could simply be the first domino leading to a repeat of last year’s injury-based frustrations.
Last season, key players such as Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Steve Blake combined to miss 155 games – not to mention the other injuries that seemed to develop at the very least opportune moments such as Bryant’s season-ending Achilles tear that kept him sidelined for the final four regular season games and the postseason.
Now that we’re so far removed from the events, it is less likely to be rebutted as a mere excuse when I remind you of just how catastrophic the injury situation was for last year’s team. Longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti has since remarked that it was “by far” the worst batch of injuries he’s encountered as he heads into his 30th season with the organization.
Considering the fact that the 2012-13 team played large portions of the season without both the starting and reserve point guards and power forwards, to go along with the additional injuries that slowed the remaining players (and the locker room turmoil), it is actually a wonder that the team was able to turn things around to the tune of a 28-12 finish. With that in mind, especially given the way the the offseason went, those fans cannot be faulted if they are experiencing a bit of ‘deja vu.’
To be clear, experts such as Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Robert Klapper (Cedars-Sinai Medical Group, Los Angeles) have been far less concerned with Bryant’s recovery from the Achilles tear than many basketball analysts and pundits. While it isn’t believed that the PRP procedure should cause any additional recovery time for the 35-year-old shooting guard, one has to imagine it can only be another reason to take as much time as needed in order to ensure a full recovery. Even though Dr. Klapper seems very optimistic about Bryant’s recovering Achilles, he actually expressed more of a concern regarding potential knee inflammation and soreness having a lingering impact.
KOBE. His Achilles was Acute trauma. His knee is Chronic trauma called Arthritis. The inflammation in both is the key difference for Germany
— Dr. Robert Klapper (@DrRobertKlapper) October 4, 2013
This year’s team, while absent of a young star, is far more equipped to not only fit a more up-tempo pace (depending upon the lineup), but can also endure if one of its core players misses time due to injury. Each of the recently acquired Nick Young and Wesley Johnson could see time at the small forward position, but could also find themselves filling in for Bryant as a reserve or in the event he was unable to play at the beginning of the season. The same can be said for both Steve Blake (traditionally, a point guard) and high energy guard Jodie Meeks. D’Antoni, who mixed and matched lineups out of blatant necessity last season, can now do the same by choice.
The frontcourt boasts just as much depth, as D’Antoni has the luxury of pairing Gasol with several different types of players, depending upon his preferred mode of attack. Chris Kaman would provide the most size, and maintain the “twin towers” effect the Lakers have enjoyed since Gasol was paired with former Laker Andrew Bynum for the organization’s most recent title run. Kaman, a former All-Star, combines a soft touch with either hand around the basket with the ability to space the floor with an above-average mid-range game for a big man. Newly acquired Shawne Williams and Elias Harris will also attempt to make the roster as non-guaranteed training camp invites, and could provide even more depth at the position for D’Antoni.
Jordan Hill, generally seen as an energy/effort player but expected to compete for a starting role, acknowledged working on his jumper as well as all aspects of his offensive game in preparation to this season.
“Me and Pau play good together,” Hill told HOOPSWORLD. “It really doesn’t matter what my role is, I just want to go out there and play. I’m not looking to be one of the main scorers on the team. You know me for being the energy guy, rebounding, defending…so that’s what they want me to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The luxury of having interchangeable players and lineups is any coach’s dream. Developing a roster of players that not only want to play together, but for one another, which the Lakers seem to have by all accounts from training camp, is even more of a welcomed sight. On a team that even D’Antoni acknowledged simply never accepted (let alone embraced) their roles in 2012-13, Hill’s eagerness to simply “fit in” has to be music to the coaching staff’s collective ears.
“It’s a lot of competition out there, which is fine with me,” Meeks said. “I’ve never shied away from competition. I’m looking forward to just doing what I did last year. Opportunities will come throughout the season for everyone, so when they do come you have to be ready.”
Partnering a unified front with that spirit of competition bodes well for this year’s team. One thing is certain, the “us against the league” mentality is one that has privately been embraced by this team, regardless of whether they want to publicly acknowledge the shared sentiment. Again, a positive sign for a team and fan base that has certainly endured their fair share of recent tribulations – relatively speaking, of course.