By giving an injured, 35-year old Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers made an economic, financial driven decision, not one based on the desire to win NBA titles in the near future. However, it isn’t all negative, and his return to the courts after 8 months of an Achilles Tendon injury keeping him away, might not be the worst thing in the world.
Bryant came back, straight into the starting lineup, playing 28 minutes (probably more than he should have) and looking slow and sluggish, as you might expect from someone his age and the kind of injury he’s had to overcome. When trying to find someone to compare him to, Dirk Nowitzki is the closest thing and of the closest age. It took Nowitzki more than a month before he got back to his old ways of scoring off those one-foot lean backs, and the easiest thing to see about Bryant’s game was how weak his legs are right now.
He needs to get his legs under him = His legs need to get back in shape. Bryant was heavy in his motion, relying more on his eyes and hand quickness to pass and defend. When he has to put too much weight on his left leg it’s more obvious to see that this is a player that’s going to need some time before things get better. The question is – how harmful is this for the Lakers?
Bryant finished with 2-of-9 from the field, turning the ball over 8 passes, especially when he tried relying on his athleticism to deliver the pass instead of his vision, like in that wonderful assist to Robert Sacre. As a whole the Lakers’ starting lineup looked awful, just like it did early this season, with the bench doing much better – Jodie Meeks (losing his starting spot), Xavier Henry, Nick Young and Jordan Hill. All players who have been a big, if not the most important part of going 10-9 before Bryant’s return, much better than anyone anticipated.
Bryant coming back has taken the ball out of Steve Blake’s hands, turning him once again into nothing else but a decent defender and spot up shooter, instead of a point guard that leads the team next to Jodie Meeks. It also hurts the minutes of Henry, who at the moment can give the Lakers a lot more than Bryant does.
At some point, probably, Bryant will start being more productive. But instead of costing the team wins (And the Lakers are clearly not tanking, trying to win as much as possible at this point), why not bring back Bryant slowly? Less minutes, less time with the ball, and moe chances of getting his shooting feeling back along with the strength of his lower body.
That’s the problem with Kobe’s hold over this team – the ownership is completely committed to him, and any attempt to hurt his minutes and playing time, even if it’s actually good for the Lakers, can only be accomplished if Bryant himself agrees to it and approves. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who’s willing to try and make that happen, which means a painful return for him and the team.