Kobe Bryant will end up sitting out the Lakers’ final two exhibitions. To hear some experts talk, he’ll need the rest.
Jeff Van Gundy, an analyst for ABC/ESPN, noticed “no hesitation or shyness” in Bryant’s six-game exhibition run and predicted he would give a “championship effort” this season.
There’s a big one coming.
“He’s going to have to be aggressive and efficient and really hit home runs every night, because around them they just don’t have the level of talent that the Laker fans are used to seeing,” Van Gundy said Wednesday.
It wouldn’t spoil the surprise to say Van Gundy wasn’t a fan of the Lakers’ defense.
“To think that Carlos Boozer all of a sudden is going to lock down the forward position and be able to guard pick-and-rolls, that’s not happening,” he said. “To think that they’re going to get a shot-blocking center that’s an everyday presence, Ronnie Price going from third point guard to he may start for them … these are real issues. These aren’t easy things to overcome.
“And the Lakers have had [success] for their whole history. So what they’re going through now is what most teams go through, a lot of these struggles to find a roster that is capable of competing for a championship or to get into the playoffs. This is not unusual. It’s just unusual for the Lakers.”
After finishing 14th in the Western Conference last season, the Lakers aren’t pegged as a playoff team. If they missed the postseason again, it would be the first time since the mid-70s they failed to make the playoffs in consecutive years.
Van Gundy wasn’t alone in his thinking.
Mark Jackson, also an ABC/ESPN analyst, said Bryant’s return was “refreshing” for the game but he had doubts about the whole Lakers product.
“They’re just a team that’s in the process of changing right now,” Jackson said. “I think the talent level around him will make it a tough season for the Los Angeles Lakers.”
Bryant sat out the Lakers’ 94-86 victory over Portland on Wednesday and planned to skip Friday’s exhibition against Sacramento. He averaged 19 points, four assists and 26.7 minutes in exhibition play but shot only 39.6%, well below his 45.4% career mark.
The Lakers start the regular season Tuesday against Houston at Staples Center.
Still getting votes
Bryant appeared in the annual general managers’ survey as the NBA’s third-best shooting guard, tying Golden State’s Stephen Curry with 7.4% of the vote but trailing Houston’s James Harden (63%) and Golden State’s Klay Thompson (18.5%).
Bryant tied for second with Cleveland’s LeBron James as the player you would want taking the shot with the game on the line, each grabbing 7.7% of the vote. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant earned an overwhelming 76.9%.
And Bryant tied Indiana’s David West as the NBA’s second-toughest player, each of them receiving 11.1% of the vote to finish behind Tony Allen of Memphis (25.9%).