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Ball Don't Lie

Jim Buss ‘would bet a lot of money on’ Kobe Bryant returning for the preseason (Video)

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Kobe's already ditched the crutches. The tux comes next. (Getty Images)

The 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers lost the NBA’s best center over the offseason and are attempting to combat this with the additions of Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson, and a full training camp from coach Mike D’Antoni. Snark aside, this could be enough to make the playoffs and create a truly entertaining team this fall. Even if Kobe Bryant, coming off of an Achilles tear, has to miss a month or more of the season while he recovers from the sort of injury that has sadly upended the careers of many other NBA players in their mid-30s.

Never one to shy away from not making sense, Laker co-owner Jim Buss decided to talk up an early return for Bryant at the NBA Summer League on Thursday. Kobe was initially slated to be out for six to nine months following his tear in mid-April, but Buss seems ready for his man to be back in time for the team’s preseason run in early October. Because that sounds sensible!

From NBA TV, with the Kobe comments coming around the four-minute mark:

Here’s the main quote, from the Los Angeles Times:

"I would bet a lot of money on him coming back in preseason," Buss said during the broadcast of the Lakers' Las Vegas Summer League game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Thomas & Mack Center. "He's going to come back when he is right. I see him coming back at the beginning of this season."

“When he is right” and “beginning of the season” are not the same things. The problem, when dealing with Jim Buss and Kobe Bryant, is that these two may talk themselves into believing that these statements are directly aligned.

Kobe will definitely try to talk himself into a preseason return, because he’s a dogged competitor and wants to help his team survive what will be a tough season.

Buss? He’ll talk himself into it because he’s the sort of guy that tries to talk up his team during a Summer League game. Trying to assuage the fears of a fan base that just saw the NBA’s best center leave the franchise for less money to fly to Houston because the core around him in Los Angeles was too old. Trying to pretend that October and November (and March and April, if we’re honest) will even matter for the 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers. Jim Buss, the guy that fires scouts during a lockout, is that shameless. And that shamelessness would be harmless if he weren’t rolling the dice with one of the NBA’s all-time legends along the way.

Yahoo! Sports’ Blair Johnson and Marc Spears discussed as much early on Friday:

The problem with this is that the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t going to do anything in 2013-14. Apologies, Laker fans, but the best this squad can do is rally around good spacing and a healthy year from Steve Nash and Pau Gasol and win 47 games on its way to an aesthetically-pleasing year that ends in the first round. I’m honestly looking forward to it, watching Gasol get to run the offense from the inside-out and seeing how Nash adapts to dominating the ball both with and without Kobe.

The issue is that this potential, and that ability to edge out teams like Dallas and perhaps Denver for those lower seeds is not worth risking the rest of Kobe Bryant’s legendary career.

It’s not worth rushing the guy back by the preseason. It’s not worth propping him up for 40 minutes a game, 40 minutes that would feature his typically league-leading 20 shots per game. It’s not worth, after over 54,000 combined regular and postseason minutes, pushing Kobe Bryant back into playing like an MVP candidate either in the middle of October, or even the middle of December or January.

And somebody’s going to have to own the nards to tell Kobe this. Good luck.

Nobody on the Lakers is going to stand up to this guy, and it could result in a pound-foolish display that costs the Lakers the chance at a top of the line free agent in July of 2014. The whole point of 2013-14 is to showcase Mike D’Antoni, to tell the world that Steve Nash can still function, and to unleash a healthy and fully recovered Kobe Bryant as the sort of superstar that a 2014 free agent will want to play with on their way to another blue and gold championship in 2014-15. If Bryant rushes back, and D’Antoni plays the martyr again by handing him the ball and unending minutes, this could all be lost.

And for what? Maybe 50 wins? A chance to give the Houston Rockets a real tough go in the first round? Get over yourselves, Lakers. Even you have to rebuild at some point.

Seriously, who the hell does this? The Laker games are already going to be sold out this year. Fans will still tune into the billion-dollar broadcast deal the Lakers have in place. What is the point of going on record to “bet a lot of money” to talk up Kobe’s preseason return?

Kobe Bryant has given up his body for this franchise. What happens if Kobe has a setback in September? What happens if the leg doesn’t respond in October? Is Bryant going to want to look like any less of a badass, especially now that his entitled rich boy of an owner has basically told Laker Nation that he’ll be around once Halloween hits? No, Kobe’s going to push through and attempt to come back after five and a half months on the shelf, following an Achilles tear.

Only because the Los Angeles Lakers are the sort of franchise that crosses their arms in a photo in order to make their guns look bigger. Someone – whether it’s the owner or the coaching staff or someone in the front office – has to be the one to tell Kobe Bryant that rushing back from a major Achilles tear after five and a half months is not worth risking what could be a brilliant end to his career.

I’m not convinced anyone on the Lakers has the guts to. See you in October, Kobe. Please be safe.

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