The NBA, A-through-Z: Kobe Bryant

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with Kobe Bryant.

You do realize that this is just about unprecedented, right? Other notable stars have attempted to come back from major injuries, and several notable stars have attempted to return from Achilles tendon tears late in their career. For Isiah Thomas, the injury was a career-ender, and the too-soon age of 32, with the caveat that Isiah’s burgeoning business interests and the decline of the Detroit Pistons hastened his decision to step away.

For Dominque Wilkins, it was a minor setback – he went on to average nearly 30 points per game in his first season back from surgery at age 33, and would continue to play for seven more seasons professionally in both the NBA and overseas.

Kobe Bryant’s different. Always has been. The guy wants to stay a Laker, make $30 million and take 22 shots a game until his children are old enough to legally rent a car. He doesn’t want your pity, and despite the endless stream of Instagram photos and Twitter updates, he doesn’t want to be thought of as a comeback case. He’ll take the attention happily, but only for what matters most to him – “look at what I’m doing to make this tough situation better, Mamba-style.”

The problem for Kobe, and the Lakers, is that “Mamba-style” isn’t always the smartest way to go about things. Breathless tributes to Kobe’s competitive spirit tend to render themselves meaningless when Bryant uses that “boy he sure wants to win!”-edge to fire up another long jumper.

This will likely manifest itself in two ways, in 2013-14.

Bryant knows his body better than anyone else, in spite of never suffering this injury before, and he’ll be the best judge of what day to come back. Still, a too-quick return to form could hamstring Bryant for the rest of the season, never fully getting the needed amount of rest (rehabilitation, with Kobe’s work ethic, is not a concern) needed to buttress an Achilles that has already put up with nearly 54,000 career regular and postseason minutes.

Then there’s that on-court fire.

Kobe Bryant doesn’t do minute restrictions. He doesn’t go to school for half-a-day. He’ll be at things at a fever pitch from the outset of his return, attempting to both prove Dwight Howard wrong, make the playoffs on healthy wheels, and showcase his all-world talents in anticipation of possibly bringing in a marquee free agent in the summer of 2014, or (perhaps more important to him) signing another massive contract with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent himself in the same offseason.

If smartly played (Jordan-style, all quick post-ups and limited dribbling), Bryant can make it work, and possibly lead what still is a talented Lakers team to the playoff bracket.

If it’s all jab-step 20-footers, while taking the ball out of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol’s hands? Then the Lakers will be in trouble. Nash and Gasol have their own athleticism issues at their age, but they’re not coming off of career-altering surgery. And that’s not even getting into the defensive side of things.

Time away, especially when paired with one of the most disappointing NBA seasons we can remember (honestly, name something more disastrous than the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers), will fuel this unprecedented comeback. I understand that others have come back from the same injury, around the same age, but this is unprecedented because it’s Kobe. He may look a lot like Michael Jordan, but there’s never been anything like him.

How this affects the first full year of the post-Dr. Jerry Buss era remains to be seen. It deserves to be seen, though. The Lakers are on national TV 25 times this season, and I don’t mind one bit.

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