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(Reuters) - Hobbled five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant has been shut down for the season, the Los Angeles Lakers said on Wednesday in a crowning blow to an abysmal year for the storied franchise.
Bryant, 35, has not played since December 17 when he fractured his knee during a game against Memphis after having missed the first 19 games of the 2013-14 NBA season recovering from a torn Achilles from last April.
"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.
The sixteen-time All-Star, who has played six games this season, was examined on Wednesday by the team's physician, who determined that the injury has still not healed.
The Lakers have sagged to a 22-42 mark after posting a 45-37 record last season. With 18 games left, the team stands 15-1/2 games out of the eighth and last playoff berth in the Western Conference.
"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," said Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti.
"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, so dominant a force on the NBA stage that he was still elected to a place on this season's All-Star game, which he declined, has averaged 13.8 points and 6.3 assists in his abbreviated action.
Bryant, twice the NBA scoring champion and a former NBA most valuable player, signed a two-year contract extension earlier this season.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue