Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is not expected to return from his fractured left knee this season, a person with knowledge of his situation told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because no formal announcement has been made about Bryant's status, but the team made the announcement Wednesday.
"Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I've received from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp," Bryant said in a news release.
Bryant returned from the Achilles tendon tear he suffered in April on Dec. 8, then fractured his knee six games later and has struggled in his rehabilitation ever since. Bleacher Report first reported that the Lakers would announce this week that Bryant is out for the season.
The 35-year-old who has won five titles and appeared in 16 All-Star games signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension in late November, so this is hardly the end of his storied career.
But with the Lakers plummeting ever so much closer to a top draft pick (they're tied with the Sacramento Kings for the worst record in the Western Conference at 22-42), it appears Bryant will focus on regaining full strength and returning next season when the Lakers roster, that is in a rebuilding period, likely looks very different.
"With Kobe's injury still not healed, the amount of time he'd need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we've simply run out of time for him to return," Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said in a news release. "However, Kobe will have the entire offseason to heal, rehab and prepare, and we look forward to him being 100% for the start of next season."
Only Bryant, point guard Steve Nash, and center Robert Sacre are on contract for next season, though guard Nick Young has a player option worth $1.2 million.
Forward Pau Gasol will be a free agent this summer, and Nash's future is certainly in question as he has played 10 games this season largely because of recurring back soreness. The 40-year-old point guard has one year remaining on his deal worth $9.7 million, but said recently that he would still like to play his contract out rather than retire if his body will eventually cooperate.
Bryant has shocked the masses before with his ability to achieve the most unlikely of feats, but the person close to him said the current outlook is that Bryant won't be back until the 2014-15 season. Yet the mental toll of his recovery, it's safe to say, has been as taxing as the physical price he has paid.
When asked about the prospect of returning at All-Star weekend in New Orleans last month, Bryant was vague about his timetable and transparent about the frustration involved in this process.
"Just try to get better and then go from there," he told reporters. "I just try to focus, keep my blinders on and just do what I have to do and not worry too much about what's going on around you, but just stay focused on what my responsibilities are."
Asked if he could envision a return to All-Star level play, Bryant said, "I hope so…That means you're one of the best players in the world, so it's obviously a goal of mine to be (in the All-Star game)."
This is merely the latest dose of bad news for Lakers fans who haven't caught a break since Bryant's Achilles tendon tear was followed by a first-round playoff loss in a sweep to the San Antonio Spurs and the departure of center Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets via free agency in July.
This week's revelation that Phil Jackson could be on the verge of a front-office partnership with the New York Knicks comes at a time when the Laker Nation would surely welcome the 11-time champion coach back into their family.
Yet while Jackson predicted recently that the Lakers would be in for at least one more season of rebuilding, Bryant said at All-Star weekend that there was still some reason for hope.
"This offseason, with all the cap space, seems to be right in the Lakers' wheelhouse, in terms of turning things around pretty quickly," Bryant said. "We've never really faltered. We've normally made excellent decisions that put us back in contention."