The Los Angeles Lakers have ruled Kobe Bryant out for the remainder of the season after a re-examination of the veteran guard's injured knee showed it still hadn't healed, the team announced Wednesday.
Bryant has been sidelined since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. He also missed the Lakers' first 19 games while recovering from a torn Achilles in his left leg suffered last season.
"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 statement released by the team.
Bryant addressed the media later Wednesday and said he has high expectations for when he returns.
"I don't want to say I'll be back at the top of my game, because everybody is going to think I'm crazy and an old player not letting go, that sort of thing," Bryant said. "But that's what it's going to be."
Bryant was examined Wednesday by team physician Steve Lombardo.
"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 statement. "However, Kobe will have the entire offseason to heal, rehab and prepare, and we look forward to him being 100 percent for the start of next season."
Bryant said he made his decision to sit out the rest of the way Tuesday, prior to the final evaluation.
"The amount of time that we're looking at in terms of being able to get as healthy as possible and then get in shape so that you don't come back and get hurt again, by the time that's ready to go you're looking at a week left in the season or whatever the case may be and it didn't really seem worth it," Bryant said.
Bryant said that he has upped his rehabilitation from an exercise bicycle to an elliptical machine and hopes to run on a treadmill next week, but that the prolonged recovery should help him.
"You just continue to try to ramp up," Bryant said. "Now I find myself really looking at a seven-month training program. Just doing everything I can to get my body ready and be 100 percent and I have seven months to do that. So, I feel pretty good about it."
Bryant echoed the same thoughts on Twitter:
In all, Bryant played six games this season, averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting from the field. The Lakers are 22-42, tied for the worst record in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles signed Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension in November. The five-time NBA champion called his recovery "a slow process" during a news conference in New Orleans at All-Star Weekend last month.
Lombardo examined Bryant on Feb. 21, and it was determined the 18-year veteran would be sidelined three more weeks before being re-evaluated because of continued pain, swelling and soreness in the knee.