Count On Kobe Bryant Return For The Lakers Season Opener?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver NuggetsLike every other Lakers fan, I miss Kobe Bryant. A lot. With media day now over and done with, and the regular season set to tip-off in exactly a month, the yearning for Kobe Bryant’s return grows stronger.

Kobe is a global icon. And if you take any merit in correlation of one’s sphere of influence through their Twitter followers, then Kobe, with 3.5 million followers, is more popular than the Los Angeles Lakers (3.38 million) organization itself. So naturally, it’s a little anticlimactic that the return of Lakers’ basketball on Oct. 29 might not be compounded with the return of Kobe from his ruptured Achilles.

Time and time again we get teased by the self-proclaimed Vino that he’ll be ready to go by the season opener. Earlier this off-season, he said that he’s shattered the timetable in terms of his rehab. To drill that point home, he jumped off a 40-foot high dive in his Vine debut  just to show how well his Achilles reacts to impact.

However, according to several reports, the man isn’t ready to run without the aid of the super fancy anti-gravity treadmill yet and hasn’t been cleared to practice with the rest of the team. Four weeks remain until the season opener.

At some point, it has to be asked are the risks of being ready for opening night equal to the reward?

The five-time champion will vehemently defend, to his grave, the goal of the 2013-14 season is to play into June. But, a more realistic goal of this season is to give all these new young signings adequate floor time to evaluate who’s worth bringing back in the long-term, and if they make the playoffs and surprise some people then great.

So, what’s the rush to come back, Kobe?

If it’s to prove to the universe that he is not human and can play through any injury, then he’s already done that by virtue of winning the 2010 championship with a dislocated finger in his shooting hand (along with a myriad of other examples , type “Kobe Bryant injuries” into a Google search).

Besides winning another championship, Kobe still has personal accolades to play for. Most notably, he sits 675 points behind Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list; and trails Kareem by 6,770 points for first overall. Every game that he sits out is an opportunity to chip away at that number (But then again, every time Jodie Meeks volunteers himself to take a technical free throw the purple and gold are awarded, that also takes points away from Bryant).

But I’m not even sure if this is a worthy cause to come back prematurely for. If he is as obsessed with winning a sixth championship, as he often tells us, then his long-term health is much more critical to the team than coming back early in order to pad his already impressive resume.

Overcoming a major injury late into a legendary career isn’t uncharted territory. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees did it, or more appropriately tried to do it, this year. As the MLB equivalent to Kobe, Jeter suffered a broken ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS  against the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 13, 2012.

But the iconic captain of the Yankees was never truly himself this year post-injury; playing in just 17 games and batting .170 and getting re-placed on the disabled list on four separate occasions. And with all due respect to baseball, it’s much less physically demanding than basketball.

If Jeter’s comeback has taught us anything it’s that it’s less important when Kobe comes back; it should be about when Kobe is comfortable to come back and be the Kobe we all know and love.

I don’t know much about the world, but I do know that it is a better place when Kobe Bean Bryant is a dominant basketball player.

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