LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant is having surgery Saturday on his torn Achilles tendon, ending the season for the Los Angeles Lakers star.
Teammates and coaches say Bryant is determined to return quickly from the biggest injury of his career. General manager Mitch Kupchak thinks it's realistic the 34-year-old guard could be ready for next season's opener in the fall.
Bryant was hurt late in the Lakers' 118-116 win over Golden State on Friday night. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti says Bryant's tendon was completely torn. Bryant stayed in the game to make two free throws.
Kupchak says the Lakers haven't considered parting ways with Bryant, who will make nearly $30.5 million next year.
Bryant took to Facebook in the wee hours of Saturday morning to vent about the Achilles tendon injury that likely ended his season, writing the "frustration is unbearable" but the setback will not end his career.
The Lakers' star felt a pop as he pushed off his left foot making a move during Los Angeles' victory against Golden State on Friday night. The team, in a final push to make the playoffs, is all but certain Bryant tore his Achilles. He is to have an MRI on Saturday.
The 34-year-old Bryant posted about his "rage" on his Facebook a few hours after being hurt: "Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I'm supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that?? "
He added: "Maybe this is how my book ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me...Then again maybe not!"
"One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day."
After the game, Bryant appeared to fight back tears while he thought about the closing days of the Lakers' tumultuous season. After a terrible start and numerous missteps along the way, Los Angeles (42-37) is one game ahead of the Utah Jazz, who hold the tiebreaker, for the final playoff spot in the West with two games to play.
Bryant, who scored 34 points despite hyperextending his left knee early in the second half, hit two free throws after apparently tearing his tendon with 3:08 to play, tying the game before hobbling to the locker room.
Bryant's Facebook post continued: "If you see me in a fight with a bear, prey for the bear". Ive always loved that quote. Thats "mamba mentality" we don't quit, we don't cower, we don't run. We endure and conquer.
"I know it's a long post but I'm Facebook Venting LOL. Maybe now I can actually get some sleep and be excited for surgery tomorrow. First step of a new challenge."
"I have faith in my teammates. They will come thru," he continued. "Thank you for all your prayers and support. Much Love Always. Mamba Out"
The victory kept the Lakers in control of their playoff destiny. They are still in the running for their 16th postseason trip during Bryant's career, but they'll probably have to do it without the five-time NBA champion in uniform, assuming the MRI confirms the Lakers' diagnosis of a torn tendon.
"I'm going to be there still," Bryant said. "I can't be with them out there on the floor, but I can use my intellect to try to break down film and help them see things they might not see."
But after playing heavy minutes all season while contending with several minor injuries, one of the most durable stars in NBA history finally incurred an injury even he couldn't play through.
"I can't walk," he said, with only a trace of a smirk. "I tried to maybe just put pressure on my heel, see if I could do it that way, but there was just nothing there."
Achilles' tendon injuries can require many months of rehabilitation and recovery, depending on their severity, and Bryant has enormous mileage on his legs. The NBA's No. 3 scorer this season has played more than 38 minutes per game, more than any teammate and more than any player in the league over 30.
Bryant said his teammates must "just continue to play. We've been dealing with injuries all year. I'll do what I can, watching film and communicating to the guys the best form of attacking certain teams, and go from there."
The Lakers' future is tied up in Bryant's health even beyond his vaunted scoring and leadership: He will make nearly $30.5 million next season in the final year of his deal. Los Angeles' uncertain offseason just got even weirder, with Howard's impending unrestricted free agency still looming largest in the mix.
Bryant has been ferociously competitive while trying to keep the Lakers' playoff hopes afloat. While Gasol and Steve Nash have missed long stretches of play with injuries, and while Howard struggled to get to full strength after last year's back surgery, Bryant played through a sprained ankle and countless minor woes, missing only two games with injuries that could sideline other players for weeks.
After playing all 48 minutes while scoring 47 points in Portland on Wednesday, Bryant pushed the Lakers relentlessly forward on one good leg against the playoff-bound Warriors. Golden State got 47 points from Stephen Curry in a dynamic performance, but Bryant led a 9-0 run by hitting consecutive 3-pointers to tie it at 107 with 3:47 left.
"I hate it for Kobe," said first-year Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who has marveled at Bryant's toughness while discounting suggestions Bryant was playing too much. "I hate it for us. I hate it for L.A., but you have to close ranks. There's no going back now. ... He's just an unbelievable player with a heart, and it is unbelievable."
Bryant didn't know whether his heavy workload contributed to the injury.
"Who knows? It was all necessary," he said. "It's just a freak situation, I guess."
Bryant's teammates had little to say to him in the locker room, many still in disbelief over the latest injury to befall this high-priced roster.
"He's the greatest competitor, and he's been that all season long, all through his career," said Gasol, who had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in his sixth career triple-double. "He's been an example for us throughout all this. He showed character. He showed heart, and that's what we're going to need from now on."