Limiting Kobe Bryant’s playing time is easier said than done
Almost every Lakers coach has said it since 1996, with the exception of Del Harris. He was lucky enough to get a young, vibrant Kobe Bryant.
Phil Jackson, in his second tour with the Lakers, wanted to limit Bryant’s playing time. So does current coach Mike Brown. Rudy Tomjanovich might have wanted the same thing too, but his tenure was, uh, a little short.
Lakers coaches say they want to curb Bryant’s chances of injury and stress on a now-34-year-old body that has logged 51,166 career minutes. They often can’t deliver.
Bryant is averaging 37 minutes a game in four games this season, above his career average of 36.5.
“The one thing I want to try to really do is be conscious of Kobe’s minutes,” Brown said Tuesday.
Here we go again.
“He’s the one guy that I know I don’t want to play that many minutes,” Brown said. “Pau [Gasol] and Dwight [Howard], obviously where they are in their career, for those guys to play 36 minutes, 37 minutes at times, that’s OK.”
Here’s the problem: Bryant has been stellar this season, averaging 26.8 points, five rebounds and three assists, all while fighting a foot injury and shooting 59.7%, impressive accuracy for a guard. It’s hard to ignore those numbers for a team still seeking an identity.
Another issue: The Lakers’ bench has been awful. Brown doesn’t really have a choice.
Jodie Meeks was brought in via free agency to be Bryant’s backup. He is averaging two points. Small forward Devin Ebanks has shifted to shooting guard sometimes this season. He is shooting 18%.
It’s gotten so bad that Metta World Peace has had to log time at backup shooting guard.
Brown seemed to draw the line Tuesday, well aware that Bryant played 43 minutes Friday in a 105-95 loss to the Clippers.
“Even if it has a chance to cost us, I’m not going to throw Kobe out there for 43, 44 minutes just to win a single game during the year,” Brown said.
Brown could always study Jackson’s ability to limit Bryant to 33.9 minutes a game in 2010-11, though it mostly had to do with Bryant’s troubled right knee that season.
Bryant did not practice Tuesday, part of his ongoing attempt to appease the strained right foot he sustained during exhibition season. It hasn’t affected his play, and Bryant said Tuesday he was about 90% healthy.
For the record, Bryant said he would be fine with the increased playing time.
“I’m physically able to play a big bulk of minutes. I’m in really tip-top shape, so my body can handle that,” he said. “But if I don’t need to play that many minutes, all the better.”
Bryant’s not alone. In fact, the average minutes for four Lakers starters read like a countdown: 38 (Gasol), 37 (Bryant), 36 (Howard) and 35 (World Peace).
The reserves would be easy to blame again, though the starters were culpable too, Gasol said.
“The better the starting five starts playing, the more the minutes are going to down overall,” said Gasol, whose average career playing time is 36 minutes.
Then he added, “We’re going to get better.”
A report from CNN Turkey said Bryant would play until he was 40. Bryant chuckled at it.
“Playing until I’m 40 is not beyond the realm of possibility,” he said. “There’s always YMCA games, there’s always pickup games. I’ll probably be playing as long as I’m living.”
Bryant is under contract with the Lakers for one more season after this one.
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