As last-second shots go, this was one of his best.
With the clock ticking down on the Lakers' chances of obtaining a high pick in what could be a loaded draft, Kobe Bryant stepped up by stepping back.
With only 18 more chances to lose more games and fall closer to the bottom of the NBA standings, the Lakers announced Wednesday that Bryant's fractured left knee has not fully healed and he will not play again this season.
“The amount of time he'd need to rehab and be ready to play ... we've simply run out of time for him to return,” said Lakers trainer Gary Vitti in a statement.
Translated, Bryant finally realized that the best way he could help this team would be to leave it alone.
And then, just before he disappeared, he stopped by the media room at the Lakers' practice facility and delivered a few parting shots to increasingly embattled owners Jim and Jeanie Buss.
Bryant called the Busses out on a family feud that led to their losing the front-office savvy of Phil Jackson, the 11-time NBA championship coach and Jeanie's fiance who will run the New York Knicks.
“You know how I feel about Phil. I have so much admiration for him,” Bryant told reporters before the news on Jackson was reported.
“... Personally, it would be hard for me to understand. ... It would be tough. I don't really get it.”
Bryant then addressed the Lakers' chain of command — as set by Jerry Buss before his death in February 2013 — that has left many in the organization bewildered. Jim was anointed to run the basketball operations but is clearly not qualified for the job. Yet Jeanie, who was anointed as the business boss, seems unable to do anything about it.
“You've got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority,” Bryant said. “Then it goes down to the coaching staff. What's Mike [D'Antoni] going to do? What do you want to do with Mike?”
The comments were a stunning reminder of the slow decay of the Lakers since the passing of revered Jerry Buss. Can you imagine any player ever criticizing him the way Bryant just criticized his children? Then again, could anyone ever imagine that in a season during which Bryant played only six games, he could eventually be celebrated for the ones he didn't play?
Bring on the ping-pong balls. Bring on 12 of the final 18 games against teams that would currently qualify for the playoffs. And, oh yeah, bring on a healthy Bryant for next season.
“Kobe will have the entire off-season to heal, rehab and prepare, and we look forward to him being 100% for the start of next season,” Vitti said.
The only real loser in Wednesday's announcement is the guy who so strongly believed Bryant would be back at full strength this season, he bet $48.5 million on it. Yeah, you guessed it. It feels unkind to even keep writing his name.
When Jim Buss gave Bryant a two-year contract extension last winter before Bryant had even attempted to return from his Achilles' tendon injury, most Lakers fans wondered why Buss would invest so much of the team's future in someone whose future was so uncertain. Nobody was arguing that Bryant didn't deserve an extension, but couldn't Buss have at least waited to see him run the length of the court in an official game? Couldn't Buss have waited until, like, now?
You think Bryant would have taken a lot less money now, freeing up more money for the Lakers to pursue free agents in two upcoming off-seasons that will include the 2015 Summer of Kevin Love? You think any other team would have offered him anything even close to that Lakers money now?
It turns out, Bryant was given the extension on the basis of six games during which he had 31 baskets, 18 free throws, 83 points. Bryant's entire season reads like a good night against Toronto. Buss rewarded him as though he had just led the Lakers to another NBA championship. The Lakers' fans could be paying for this for years to come.
For now, at least everyone can be assured that Bryant, who will be 36 next season, still has the fire to fight through time and frailty to make some sort of impact next season.
“This is not what we stand for, this is not what we play for,” Bryant told reporters Wednesday, a much-needed strong and angry statement from someone in Lakers leadership.
On the day it was announced he was finished, here's hoping Kobe Bryant is just getting started.