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:
Thank you for all the support. 7months to get back And answer this challenge #healthy #training #nutrition #bodyarmor
- Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 12, 2014
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.
"As time went on, I think everybody kind of expected it," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "It got to a certain point of no return and obviously he's doing what's best for his health and it seems to be the right thing to do."
D'Antoni expressed confidence in the 35-year old's ability to return at a high level, however.
"We all know Kobe," said D'Antoni. "I would say if it's humanly possible, yeah, he'll be right back at the level he always was. He'll dedicate this summer and fall to getting ready and come back with a vengeance."
General manager Mitch Kupchak had said he didn't want Bryant back until he was "100 percent."
"We're not going to push him to get back," Kupchak said. "I don't see why you would. We've made a commitment to him for two more years, and I just don't know why we'd do that [push him to come back]. But if he feels he's ready and he's in shape and he gets the doctor's approval, then there's no reason why he couldn't do that."
The Lakers still must pay Bryant his entire $30.453 million salary for the 2013-14 season, and an insurance policy will cover only 15.6 percent of it ($4.75 million).
After a player misses 41 consecutive games because of an injury, the league's insurance policy kicks in. Starting with the 42nd game, the insurance pays for 80 percent of the player's salary for games missed.
Because Bryant returned in the 20th game of the season, the insurance clock stopped and then started again after he was hurt. Bryant had to be out for another 41 games, meaning the Lakers will recoup only 80 percent of Bryant's salary for the final 16 games.
The insurance policy will start to kick in next Wednesday, when the Lakers play the San Antonio Spurs.
D'Antoni also reiterated that Lakers veteran guard Steve Nash would likely not play again this season.
"I think he's a little bit in the same boat as Kobe is," D'Antoni said of the 40-year-old Nash. "We'll make sure he's ready for next year if that's what he wants to do and get him 100 percent well. It really makes no sense right now to force him into something that he's probably not ready to do."
Bryant's diagnosis already caused ripples throughout the NBA.
"It hasn't been the same without Kobe because of what he means not only to the Lakers franchise but what he means to this league," said Clippers guard Chris Paul. "Me living here in L.A., I'm used to watching the games at night and watching Kobe and seeing what he's going to do that a given night. Him being a friend of mine I hate to see that. But the one thing I know about him is that he's already getting ready for next season."
ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and ESPN.com's Darren Rovell contributed to this report.