Kobe Bryant recently looked pretty healthy in between playing some pickup futbol and prognosticating on the World Cup finals. Still, should the Lakers maybe take a page from the NBA Finals champion Spurs and treat Kobe a bit more like the Spurs treat Tim Duncan?
Kobe looked to be in fine form when ESPN‘s cameras caught up with him down in Brazil. The Los Angeles Lakers star played a few rounds of indoor soccer, and Laker fans will be happy to know that Kobe looked positively spry kicking the ball around. He wasn’t exactly Ronaldo-esque out there, but Bryant looked leagues better than he has recently while recovering from an Achilles tear last year and a knee fracture this year.
Bryant missed 76 games last season following those two injuries, and many observers are saying that the Laker guard needs to pay heed to messages from Father Time. Bryant will be 36 by the time the 2014-2015 NBA season – his 19th pro season – starts this fall. The six games Kobe played this past season are by far the fewest he’s played since entering the league, but they come at the tail end of a career that’s seen Bryant in 1,445 regular season and playoff games.
Some, like Bleacher Report, are suggesting that the Lakers take a cue from the current NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, when it comes to dealing with Bryant’s playing time. The Spurs lifted the Larry O’Brien championship trophy this year after shellacking a more athletic Miami Heat team in five games, but the way they played through the regular season raised quite a few eyebrows.
The Spurs’ “Big Three” of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are 38, 36, and 32, respectively, and coach Greg Popovich played them throughout the regular season as though they were those ages. Pop managed the minutes of the Spurs’ key players throughout the season, taking them out early in blowouts and sometimes sitting them for entire games. The NBA hasn’t been too happy with Popovich’s “pitch count basketball,” but Sunday night proved you can’t argue with the results, and Bryant’s Lakers might want to take note.
Duncan getting his fifth ring may have tweaked Kobe’s jealousy of Timmy a bit, and that could provide some fire, but Bryant is turning 36, and the rest of the Lakers’ core isn’t too young either. Laker forward Pau Gasol will be 33 by next season, and point guard The Ghost of Steve Nash, 40, is the Methuselah of not only the Lakers, but the entire league.
So, the thinking goes, maybe the Lakers should rely on whatever younger talent they have a bit more in order to more efficiently make use of Kobe Bryant, Gasol, and Nash. The Lakers will have the No. 7 pick in the NBA Draft at their disposal, unless they trade it away for Kevin Love or some other prospect. Were they to land a pick of true talent, that could be the sort of boost that allows the squad to rest Kobe and its aging stars.
So, what’s standing in the way of such a plan? Well, Kobe, of course.
Much of this hinges on Kobe’s attitude when he returns from injury. Bryant is known to be one of the most competitive players in league history, if not all of sport. It’s unclear how Kobe will take a season and a half of critics saying he can’t come back in top form. Tell Kobe he can’t put his body through 82 games at 40 minutes per game, and you just might guarantee that he’ll try. Whether Bryant succeeds, though, is something of a crapshoot.
There is also the issue of deciding who, exactly, will be keeping tabs on Kobe’s minutes. The Lakers are currently looking for a new head coach, and the person they hire will have to deal with an aging Kobe that likely will make two or three times what the coach is paid per year. Getting someone that Kobe respects will be key to getting Kobe’s minutes under control, but even then that’s not certain.
Time will tell, though, what kind of Kobe we’ll see when the 2014-2015 season kicks off this fall. The high-flying, fast-cutting Bryant of yesteryear is almost certainly gone, but if Laker fans want another banner hanging from the rafters, limited minutes for Kobe 2.0 (or 3.0, or 4.0, we’ve lost count) might not be the worst of things.
Oh, and Kobe’s World Cup predictions? Bryant sees it coming down to Brazil and Argentina.
Lead image via The Big Lead.