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Gregg Popovich laments Kobe Bryant's season-ending injury

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Bryant may have been having a terrible season, but his star isn't any less diminished in the eyes of the Spurs coach.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The big story going into the Spurs game at the AT&T Center against the Los Angeles Lakers is that it looks very likely that Kobe Bryant will miss the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff, meaning it'll be three straight season-ending injuries for the 36-year-old all-time great. Gregg Popovich, who has long been one of Bryant's staunchest admirers, lamented the loss before the game.

"When somebody like that, someone of that stature goes down, it's not good for everybody, not just for his team, obviously, but for the entire league," Popovich said. "When you miss guys like Derrick Rose, for instance the last couple of years, or like Kobe, or anybody else like that, it's a loss for the league, for the fans, for all of us. I can think of a lot of shots that Kobe's made that have just basically knocked us out, and in an odd, weird, sort of way I still enjoy it, when you see a talent like that play and you say ‘Wow, I saw "so-and-so" play.' And he's one of those kind of guys."

A fellow reporter made the connection between Bryant's injury and the one suffered by the Spurs' Patty Mills, who played with a partially-torn rotator cuff during the second half of last season plus the playoff run, before getting it surgically repaired right after the Finals. It caused Mills to miss out on playing for his native Australia in the FIBA World Cup and kept him out for the first 31 games of this season, with Mills returning to action on Dec. 28. Popovich raised a good point, explaining that Mills transition back to full health was made easier in part because of his commitment to staying in shape even when his upper body was relatively immobile.

"We watched him, he rehabbed every day, really put in the time and effort to not just rehab the shoulder but to not take too long to get in basketball shape, so he'd do whatever he needed to do for his shoulder but did yeoman-type workouts to keep his conditioning up," Popovich said, the inference being that for a noted, driven competitor like Bryant, it shouldn't be an issue to be 100 percent physically for the next training camp, as long as he takes care of his body.

Naturally the discussion of Bryant led to comparisons with the Spurs own legendary graybeard, the one-and-only, ageless Tim Duncan. Pop was asked if he's surprised that Duncan has still been this effective and consistent, at 38, even with his careful diet and workout regimen. As he's wont to do, Popovich brought up Duncan's bad wheel, a constant source of amazement for the coach.

"He certainly has been impressive to keep playing at the level he's been playing at, and he basically does it on one leg," Popovich said. "If you watch him walk it pains you, because the other leg, it doesn't straight out, so for him to do what he does every night and wear that brace in all kinds of different ways, in the summertime, at night, here and there, to make sure he's ready to go, he's in that same category with the Kobes and Michael (Jordan)s and all those guys, top-notch competitors who do what they have to do to stay at that level. And that's really the tough part. There's a whole lot of guys who have a good year or a good night or a good month, but to have the careers those kinds of people had, that's a special mindset, a mental toughness beyond their physical capabilities."

When asked if Duncan is still the Spurs most important player, or whether that unofficial mantle has already been passed on to Kawhi Leonard, Popovich didn't hesitate or beat around the bush. The torch hasn't been passed just yet.

"Everything rotates around him, everything starts with him, he still rebounds and gets double-doubles for us, blocks shots, and anchors us down low," Popovich noted. "He's not going to score like he used to score, but he still has to be dealt with to the degree that everybody else can do what they do, so, at some point the run will end but I don't know when that is. Everybody said that it was years ago.  I don't know what's going on here, but it can't last forever, that's for sure."

There was a time where it seemed Duncan's run of All-Star Game appearances had ended too, but lately it looks like the odds are more in his favor. Not only do the injuries to Bryant and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge help his circumstances, but there's also the fact that Leonard has played too few games to merit serious consideration and you'd think the defending champs would need to have at least one representative.

"All my guys deserve to be in the All-Star Game," Popovich chuckled, theatrically rolling his eyes.

He then launched into a tangent about the lengths other teams go to promote their guys for what is, essentially, an exhibition game.

"We got some interesting things in the mail from people who are politicking for their guys," he revealed, incredulously. "And just for everybody out there who sent me something I just want them to know that it immediately went in the trash can. Such pandering is embarrassing. I didn't say who, but we got it from several places and it immediately went into the trash can."

Anyone have any guesses which teams are going overboard in campaigning for their guys? It shouldn't be too harden to think of a couple, right?

In the meantime, the Spurs will look to get back on track against the Lakers, the first night of a six-game homestand before the Rodeo Road Trip in February. They already lost to Los Angeles once at home 112-110 in overtime on Dec. 12in a game where Nick "Swaggy P" Young drilled six three-pointers. When Bryant missed a couple of games earlier in the season and the Lakers won without him, Young famously compared the situation to the Quentin Tarantino film "Django Unchained," the analogy being that Bryant is more of a tormentor than a teammate.

It'll be to the Spurs to make Young and Co. feel less like Django and more like "Bill," dealing with the vengeful wrath of a scorned Beatrix Kiddo. Hopefully San Antonio gets treated to some bloody satisfaction.