Bryant will not play Monday against the Phoenix Suns, marking his eighth absence in the last 15 games.
The Lakers own the NBA’s fourth-worst record (12-29) and have money to spend on a maximum-salary free agent in July. Bryant, 36, has one more year and $25 million on his contract.
Looking ahead was “part of the process,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott acknowledged Monday, mentioning team executives Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss. “Obviously, that’s what I’m trying to do and I know Mitch and Jim and everybody, they’re all on board with that as well.
“We knew this was going to be a tough year, but we also wanted some answers and the answer, especially with Kobe, is he obviously could still play at a very high level.”
The goal with Bryant this season, Scott said, now is to get “as much out of him as possible but also to get him to the point where next year he can also play at that high level again and not spend everything he has this year. Because if he plays every game, that’s what he’s going to do — he’s going to go out and play the hardest that he can possibly play and then probably have to take the whole summer to try to recuperate. And that’s just not him either. He wants to continue to work to get better.”
Will it all work? Will the Lakers be able to woo a solid player or two from a potential pool of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gay and Greg Monroe?
“That’s a question that won’t be answered until next year. We don’t know,” Scott said. “Obviously it’s a good summer for us, a big summer with free-agent markets and things like that.”
The Lakers are also in decent position to retain the top-five protected draft pick they owe Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash trade.
Bryant remained home Sunday when the Lakers left for Phoenix and planned to rejoin them there Tuesday before they leave for New Orleans. They play the Hornets on Wednesday and San Antonio on Friday before returning to Los Angeles.
Scott said there were “no arguments from [Bryant] whatsoever. I just said, ‘This is what I’m thinking…’ and he said what he’s been saying: ‘Sounds good to me, coach.’ ”
Scott again used the word “preserve” before describing his mind-set in sitting Bryant.
“Again, just trying to get his body where it’s not as sore, hurting. He said the other day, ‘It just aches everywhere,’ ” Scott said. “I know it’s not going to be to the point where even four days or five days of rest means he’s going to come back and feel great. But he [ideally] feels good enough to be able to go out there and play, like he did against Cleveland.”
Jeremy Lin will get a second consecutive start in place of injured point guard Ronnie Price, whose right elbow is still sore. Lin had six points and three assists in 30 minutes last Thursday against Cleveland. Wayne Ellington will take Bryant’s place in the starting lineup.
The Lakers have already lost three times to the Suns and were swept by them only twice in the season series since the teams started playing in 1968-69.