Just yesterday, Kobe Bryant was diagnosed with a torn labrum and some have speculated that he likely could miss the entire season. What impact will this have for the Lakers? Not much to be honest. First, there is no indication the Lakers are any worse without Kobe. Indeed, 82games.com has Kobe at -2.6 in simple rating (please consider all the usual caveats about +/- and small sample size). In addition, it really probably is for the best if Kobe sits to avoid wear and tear in a directionless season. If you assume the Lakers are better with Kobe in the lineup, his missing time actually helps in the sense that more losing will allow them to keep their draft pick (it is pledged to Phoenix if it is not in the top five).
Kobe, for his part, indicated that this is not necessarily a season ending injury, stating that “I’ve played on a torn labrum before. I’m not too concerned about it.” As noted above, though, it makes little sense for him to play through. How this is handled will be just another interesting litmus test for how the new Lakers management runs the show (early returns are not encouraging).
The most interesting aspect of Kobe’s injury and how he deals with it, of course, is how this compares with how the Lakers and Kobe dealt with a similar issue only a few years ago. Who could forget Dwight Howard tearing his labrum during the 2012-13 season? At the time, Kobe was Spartan in his assessment of the situation: “We don’t have time for it to heal…[Dwight] has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is.” Bryant was not and is not a medical professional but his point, that if you can play through the injury you should, wasn’t totally unreasonable—even if he delivered the message in the most condescending way possible. Howard missed only a few games and did play through the injury but not before letting everyone know that he thought Kobe was…ahem…annoying.
The context of Kobe’s injury now as a 36-year old on a terrible team is different from the same injury to a young Dwight on a competitive team. Nevertheless, you have to imagine that Howard is sitting in Houston and watching to see if Kobe sits and, conversely, that Kobe remembers 2013 and wants to prove that he is a man’s man and can play through all pain, if only to avoid an “I told you so” from Howard.