Lakers News: LA Must Continue Caution with Kobe Bryant Despite Encouraging Rehab

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIAugust 22, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 07:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball guarded by Willie Green #34 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of the NBA game at Staples Center on April 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  The Clippers defeated the Lakers 109-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Any success the Los Angeles Lakers experience in 2013-14 depends heavily with superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant's health.

As intensely competitive as the five-time NBA champion is entering his 18th pro season, the organization must exercise caution in bringing him back after offseason surgery on his torn Achilles.

Coming back from that type of injury—especially since it happened in the third-to-last game of the regular season against the Golden State Warriors—seems almost impossible.

But leave it to the Black Mamba to cleverly slither past other athletes in previous predicaments, much like he still surprisingly does on the court en route to the paint area.

According to renowned medical doctor Robert Klapper, Bryant will be about "80 percent" of what he was last season and could very well be ready for the Oct. 29 season opener against the Clippers:

If that's the case, 80 percent of Bryant is better than just about anyone else, and it's about as good as the Lakers could hope if he comes back as early as the first regular-season game. Another extremely encouraging sign is that Bryant posted an Instagram video of himself running on a treadmill just days ago.

The fact that Bryant has a rather optimistic evaluation from Klapper and that he's already doing at least some light running with no visible sign of limping suggests he could indeed hit the court in the Staples Center in about two months' time.

However, any premature return could threaten the rest of Bryant's career—along with the future of the Lakers' franchise in both the short and long term.

Some may view the impending campaign as somewhat of a throwaway year, but several factors beg outsiders to take on the opposite perspective. In order to lure free agents to LA, having a respectable season would certainly help.

The Lakers only have Steve Nash and Robert Sacre guaranteed to be under contract following this year, where the franchise is expected to make a run at a plethora of marquee impending free agents (h/t

All the significant pieces the Lakers have in place aside from Nash will have a chance to flee elsewhere—Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake and whoever else is considered to fall under that category.

New offseason additions in center Chris Kaman, wing players Nick Young and Wesley Johnson and a healthier athletic big man in Jordan Hill should allow the Lakers to be respectable in the Western Conference.

Johnson stated that Bryant has mentored him since his rookie year, which definitely helps from a chemistry standpoint. It will also be intriguing to see what the volume-shooting Young can do in the Lakers' fast-paced offense that caters to his strengths on that end of the court.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni may be coaching for his job this season, but he must be patient with regard to Bryant.

The price of bringing Bryant back too early is too overwhelming to pay, because should Bryant re-injure himself, the season truly will be lost. D'Antoni might not survive an absence from the playoffs, and the Lakers might have a hard time convincing other stars to sign with an aging nucleus of players who aren't even guaranteed to stay.

In this time of uncertainty in the Lakers' organization, both Bryant and the people involved in handling him need to take it upon themselves to not rush him back onto the hardwood.

Bryant must take the reins as the team's leader in this pivotal and transitional season, but only when his body is ready. Judging by his rehabilitation progress, it shouldn't be too long after the regular season begins—and the slight wait will be worth it.