(Associated Press)

Just days after making his comeback from an Achilles’ injury that sidelined him for the first month of the NBA season, Kobe Bryant is heading back to the bench with a knee injury.

Though the recovery sounds extensive, CBS Sports reports that the five-time NBA champion will not need surgery.

Bryant injured himself in the third quarter of Tuesday’s game, a


The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for the Lakers. The team signed its all-star guard to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension last month and is already without its other all-star guard, Steve Nash (back injury). Ken Berger of cbssports.com

for the team and the superstar himself.

There’s no way around it — this is a devastating setback for Bryant and the Lakers, who just last month agreed to a two-year, $48.5 million extension. Only six games into his comeback — the Lakers were 2-4 — Bryant 35, has to shut it down again. He must retreat from the competition that fuels him and get back into rehab mode.

Here is the play on which Bryant was injured in the third quarter Tuesday night in Memphis. While making a move in the post against Tony Allen, Bryant’s leg knee hyper-extended. The Lakers called a timeout, and Bryant stayed in the game before being subbed out 37 seconds later. He played 6:35 in the fourth quarter — either doing so with a fractured knee, or more likely, causing the very damage that has shelved his comeback and started a new one.

The ramifications for the Lakers are obvious. They’re 12-13, in 11th place in the stacked Western Conference, and are without Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar in addition to Bryant. Pau Gasol continues to struggle both physically and in his uneasy relationship with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

But what about Bryant himself? Though it’s a good sign that the fracture in the “lateral tibial plateau” — the outside of the shin bone where it connects to the knee — there are significant risks. Often, ligament damage is involved with such a fracture, but Bryant dodged that risk; no ligament damage showed up on his MRI, a league source said. But according to a person with knowledge of Bryant’s injury, the other risk is the development of “compartment syndrome,” which sets in when blood and fluid are trapped within the tissue walls around the fracture, creating pressure.

Bryant’s injury, while potentially manageable, is in a bad area of the knee. The medical staff treating him must be aware of the risks of complications and diagnose them promptly if they present themselves.

With an NBA on Christmas Day centerpiece game looming, a Bryant-less Lakers squad facing off with LeBron James’s Heat feels a little more like a lump of coal than a present from Santa.