Bryant on the shelf
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, ending his 19th season with the Los Angeles Lakers a little past its halfway point.
Bryant’s last three seasons have been cut short because of injury, starting with a torn Achilles tendon in April 2013, then a fractured bone in his knee last season and now a nagging shoulder soreness aggravated significantly when he dunked against New Orleans last Wednesday.
Those around Bryant say he is definitively coming back to play next season because he doesn’t want to go out like this. Implied but not stated, he would also not leave $25 million on the table in guaranteed salary and millions more in endorsements.
“I don’t see Kobe as the kind of guy that wants to leave his legacy on these terms,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said Monday. “I think he wants to go out on his own terms.”
Bryant, 36, plans to be around the Lakers’ facility more often than Steve Nash, who is receiving $9.7 million from the team but has been largely absent while sitting out the season because of recurring back problems.
Bryant also will be active in free-agent recruiting for the Lakers, including pitches to possible future teammates in July, according to people familiar with his thought process. The Lakers are expected to have enough money to spend on one maximum-salaried free agent or two B-level players.
Bryant saw team doctor Steve Lombardo last Friday and sports-medicine specialist Neal ElAttrache on Monday before opting to undergo surgery. He will need several months of rest and rehabilitation but is expected to make a full recovery.
“He sounded good,” said Scott, who talked to Bryant on the phone Monday. “I probably sounded worse than he did.”
Bryant played 35 games and made $23.5 million this season, averaging 22.3 points but shooting a career-worst 37.3 percent, well below his career average of 45.4 percent coming into the season.
There were moments to remember — passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, accruing a career-high 17 assists against Cleveland and unleashing a 44-point outburst against Golden State.
But he also had some head-scratcher moments — an eight-for-30 shooting night against Sacramento, a one-for-14 effort against San Antonio and a wild 37-shot, 39-point game against Phoenix.
Bryant had become a part-time player before getting injured, sitting out eight of the team’s previous 16 games so he could rest. He was also limited to 32 minutes in games he played in the past month.
Last season Bryant played only six games after rehabbing from Achilles tendon surgery before sustaining his knee injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the season. All told, Bryant has played in 41 games in the last two seasons. He played in 78 games in 2012-13 before suffering the Achilles injury.
“I’d rather have him half the time than none of the time,” said Scott, who wasn’t sure which Lakers player would try to take Bryant’s spot on and off the court.
“That’s a good question. Guys on that floor have to figure that out,” Scott said before seemingly settling on veteran backup forward Carlos Boozer. “If I had to guess, I would say ‘Booze.’ ”
The Lakers (12-33) are 2-8 without Bryant heading into Tuesday’s game against Washington. They have lost eight consecutive games and own the NBA’s fourth-worst record. Their season will end April 15.