Bryant’s return will clear playoff picture in the West

When healthy, Kobe Bryant is one of the most powerful figures in professional basketball.

Bryant, 35, has been sidelined for months while recovering from surgery to his left Achilles and his return to the Los Angeles Lakers remains unclear. Many pundits are unsure if the five-time champion’s eventual presence on the floor will make his team a contender. For local fans like Daniel Augustine, Cayman’s national men’s coach, the Black Mamba will overcome his injury setback to tighten the postseason race in the Western Conference.

“I have been a Lakers fan over the years,” Augustine said. “I’m a lover of the offense, especially during Phil Jackson’s time and the whole organization is a class act. Kobe is not in retirement mode, he’s in recovery mode. Once he’s healthy, he has a lot still to give. He’ll do well when he gets back.

“Once you put the right players around Kobe, the Lakers are a dangerous team. Do I buy into the talk of the Lakers not being a playoff team? Not necessarily.”

It has been a mixed bag for L.A. to start the season. In the opener, the side surprised many with a 13-point victory over crosstown rivals, the Clippers. On Wednesday, the Lakers would fall flat and lose by 31 points to the Golden State Warriors. Next up are the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, Nov. 1, at 9:30 p.m. on TNT. All of those teams were in the postseason last year. Pau Gasol is shouldering most of the Lakers’ load as Steve Nash continues to slow down.

Most preseason rankings predicted the Lakers would finish the year out of the playoffs, in 12th position out of 15 teams in the West. Aside from Bryant’s health, the biggest knocks against the side are the talent level on the bench and a mediocre defense. Bryant, who missed the season opener for the first time since 2006, said he has to be completely healed in order to play.

“I don’t really know how to answer that question,” Bryant said. “I feel good. It feels like the hard part is over. I don’t really have a timetable. I need to get in shape. I’ll wait until I’m ready. Then I’ll get out there and go. I don’t think I’ve ever played a season when I was 100 percent.”