Kobe Bryant undergoes shoulder surgery, likely ready for next season

When will we see Kobe back in uniform? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
When will we see Kobe back in uniform? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

When Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant announced that he would undergo surgery to repair the torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, the question wasn't if he would miss the rest of this season — that was a given — but whether he would return in time for opening night of the 2015-16 campaign that tips off next fall. We now have an estimate on that return, if not a definitive answer.

Bryant underwent successful surgery on Wednesday morning, roughly a week after he sustained the injury (and continued to play) in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers announced the news and set a hopeful return date in a press release:

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who injured his right shoulder in last Wednesday night’s game against the Pelicans in New Orleans, underwent a successful surgery this morning to repair a torn rotator cuff. The approximately two-hour procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache and Dr. Steve Lombardo at the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. Bryant, who is expected to make a full recovery, will be out for approximately nine months.

“I expect Kobe to make a full recovery and if all goes as expected, he should be ready for the start of the season,” said ElAttrache.

Head coach Byron Scott spoke to reporters on Wednesday, as well. From Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:

“In my mind right now,” Byron Scott said, “he’s coming back next year unless he tells me something different.” [...]

“Told him again that I would say a prayer for him today,” Scott said. “Hope everything goes well, that his recovery would be speedy and we’ll see him again soon.” [...]

“As long as you guys (the media) are saying he’s done,” Scott said, “then he’s going to come back. That’s the biggest thing with him. I think he proved his point this year that he still has a lot left in the tank. He’s still one of the best players in this league.” [...]

“All I know is it’s pretty painful, from what I heard and the rehab is long,” he said.

The nine-month rehab estimate is longer than many had anticipated, but it's also possible that that mid-to-late October date was set simply because it coincides with the start of the next NBA season. Bryant made an extremely quick return from the torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2012-13 season, and he played just six games after suffering a tibial plateau fracture in his left knee. Kobe is famous for his very high tolerance for pain, but it would seem prudent to be conservative in estimating his recovery time.

Whenever Kobe does return to an NBA court, on-lookers will be curious to see not just if he can play at a star level (a very debatable issue these past few months) but if he even resembles the no-doubt Hall of Famer who ranks among the best players in the history of the sport. Bryant is famous for doing things his way, which at times has caused him to look as if he doesn't understand that he is a 36-year-old veteran, if also a very capable one. Will things change in his 20th season?

Regardless of Kobe's level of play, it's likely that he will be joined by at least one notable newcomer to the roster. The Lakers sit at 12-34 (fourth-worst in the NBA) and have lost nine games in a row, which suggests that they are well on their way to a high lottery pick in June's draft. (The pick would go to the Phoenix Suns as part of the 2012 Steve Nash sign-and-trade if it falls outside of the top five.) L.A. also appears to have long-term salary cap flexibility due to Kobe's massive 2016 expiring contract. This injury news isn't great for Kobe, but it could open up some possibilities for next year's club.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!