Kobe Bryant does not need surgery on a fractured bone in his knee that was discovered Thursday, putting a temporary end to his comeback from a torn Achilles after only six games.
"The bone will heal," a league source told CBSSports.com of Bryant's latest physical setback.
If there's a silver lining, that's it -- however small it may be.
There's no way around it -- this is a devastating setback for Bryant and the Lakers, who just last month agreed to a two-year, $48.5 million extension. Only six games into his comeback -- the Lakers were 2-4 -- Bryant 35, has to shut it down again. He must retreat from the competition that fuels him and get back into rehab mode.
Here is the play on which Bryant was injured in the third quarter Tuesday night in Memphis. While making a move in the post against Tony Allen, Bryant's leg knee hyper-extended. The Lakers called a timeout, and Bryant stayed in the game before being subbed out 37 seconds later. He played 6:35 in the fourth quarter -- either doing so with a fractured knee, or more likely, causing the very damage that has shelved his comeback and started a new one.
The ramifications for the Lakers are obvious. They're 12-13, in 11th place in the stacked Western Conference, and are without Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar in addition to Bryant. Pau Gasol continues to struggle both physically and in his uneasy relationship with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni.
But what about Bryant himself? Though it's a good sign that the fracture in the "lateral tibial plateau" -- the outside of the shin bone where it connects to the knee -- there are significant risks. Often, ligament damage is involved with such a fracture, but Bryant dodged that risk; no ligament damage showed up on his MRI, a league source said. But according to a person with knowledge of Bryant's injury, the other risk is the development of "compartment syndrome," which sets in when blood and fluid are trapped within the tissue walls around the fracture, creating pressure.
Bryant's injury, while potentially manageable, is in a bad area of the knee. The medical staff treating him must be aware of the risks of complications and diagnose them promptly if they present themselves.
Other complications from tibial plateau fractures are chronic knee stiffness, joint misalignment, nerve damage and vascular complications, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. In other words, this injury is no joke.
I take no joy in being correct about this, because the NBA is a better, more interesting and more purely competitive place with Kobe Bryant in it. But the potential for injuries to parts of his body other than the surgically repaired left Achilles' tendon was the single biggest fear heading into his rehab and comeback.
On Sept. 17, I wrote the following:
The Kobe Bryant we have witnessed for the past 17 years -- a five-time champion, two-time scoring champion and one of the most durable and reliable athletes of our time -- was not built from November to June. That Kobe Bryant was built from July to October. He was built with day after day of deadlifts, squats, snatches and cleans, and hour after hour of short-burst conditioning work -- one sprint after another, until he felt like he was going to vomit blood.
When you understand that these are all things that Bryant has not been able to do from July to October for the first time in his career, you begin to understand that the surgically repaired tendon in his lower left leg is the least of his problems.
In some ways, everyone who wants to watch Kobe Bryant continue to play basketball wishes that wasn't true.
Especially the Lakers.