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Sports Surgeon: Bryant Should Opt For Surgery

It’s possible to rehab a torn rotator cuff, but Dr. Ochiai says Kobe Bryant should undergo surgery

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Here is a reminder: Father Time is undefeated.

According to numerous reports, it is extremely likely that Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant will miss the remainder of the season with a torn rotator cuff. This would be the third consecutive campaign that has ended prematurely for Bryant due to a severe injury. With over 53,000 career minutes on Bryant’s odometer, it appears his body is trying to send a message that it’s no longer capable of lasting through the rigorous 82-game NBA season.

However, Bryant is owed $25 million next season in what is the final year of his current deal, so it’s hard to envision a scenario where the veteran leaves that much money on the table.

The Lakers were hoping to use the upcoming summer to thrust themselves back into league relevancy. Armed with salary cap room and a healthy Bryant, it seemed like the team could potentially make one last push before the future Hall of Famer called it a career.  But now those thoughts are on hold as Bryant awaits his latest injury recovery timetable.

According to the team’s press release, Bryant is scheduled to be examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic on Monday (January 26), and a decision regarding surgery is expected to be made at that time.

While we await word of Bryant’s choice, Basketball Insiders reached out to well-respected sports surgeon Dr. Derek Ochiai for additional insight into Bryant’s latest physical setback. He hasn’t examined Bryant specifically, but has worked with many patients who suffered the exact same injury.

According to Dr. Ochiai, who performs surgeries with the Nirschl Orthopaedic Center, surgery is the best option for Bryant long term.

“There are degrees of rotator cuff tears,” Dr. Ochiai told Basketball Insiders. “In Kobe’s case, he probably had ‘wear and tear’ in his cuff for a long time. Just like a rope that gets frayed before it finally snaps.

“There are four rotator cuff tendons. Kobe probably has a lot of his tendon still intact. So it is possible he could rehab his shoulder without surgery. However, in a high-level athlete, if there is a full thickness rotator cuff tear, then surgery is usually the way to go.”

Even if the decision is made for Bryant to avoid going under the knife, Dr. Ochiai cautions that the All-Star guard wouldn’t necessarily be out of the woods from further injury.

“One additional concern without surgery is the tear propagating, essentially getting worse, especially with the stress he would put on the shoulder [playing],” Dr. Ochiai added.

While choosing the rehab option would presumably give Bryant the opportunity to get back on the court quicker, the best medical advice for the long term involves the veteran getting the surgery on his torn rotator cuff.

On the season, Bryant was averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 37 percent shooting from the floor in 35 contests. Leading up to the latest injury, the Lakers had already announced Bryant wouldn’t play both games in back-to-backs for the remainder of the season in an attempt to preserve his body.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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