The Clock Is Running out for Kobe Bryant to Return to LA Lakers in 2014

Time is no friend of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Things are progressing slowly for Bryant, who suffered a knee fracture six games into his return from a ruptured Achilles and has not played since Dec. 17. At the time it didn't appear the 35-year-old's latest brush with mortality would keep him sidelined for the remainder of 2013-14.

But that was then, this is now.

Bryant was re-examined by a team physician recently, according to The Orange County Register's Bill Oram, and the results weren't encouraging. Oram says he will be evaluated again in "three weeks," which at this point, isn't good news.

At 19-37, the Lakers don't have much, if anything, left to play for. With each day that Bryant remains sidelined, the likelihood of a return this season diminishes considerably, as does the need and desire for him to even come back.

Through it all, Bryant maintains he's trying to come back this season. 

"I am [hopeful]," Bryant said of playing again this year, per The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn. "I just need to keep my blinders on and just focus on getting better myself and going from there."

Blinders or not, Bryant is running out of time. Likewise, the Lakers are running out of use for him.


Accelerated Audition

Why would the Lakers want Bryant to return this season? As an audition.

Big things are expected from the Lakers this summer and next, when they're projected to have financial flexibility and the means to sign players capable of pushing them outside the lottery. Landing those free agents becomes easier if prospective targets know what they're getting into.

As I wrote in a previous column:

Whatever superstar the Lakers seek this time can have the best of both worlds if Bryant can still play. His contract runs out in 2016, at which point the keys will be handed over. ...

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