This one is key. While ultimately Bryant’s longevity may hinge upon his age, it equally could hinge upon how he is used for the remainder of his career. One reason for Kobe’s belief that he could play more seasons is Tim Duncan’s elite level of play at 37 years old as an example. Duncan has actually played one less season than Bryant, though.
Nonetheless, it gives Kobe hope. However, one key to Duncan’s longevity has been the manner in which San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich has conserved Timmy over the years. He’s been limited to the 30-minute range for the past four years.
That will be a problem for Bryant, as he only knows one gear–the highest one. Although we likely won’t see Kobe dip that low in terms of minutes, it will be up to Mike D’Antoni–or whoever the coach may be–to limit his minutes throughout the regular season so he’s fresh for the post-season. That obviously didn’t work out too well last season as Bryant felt he needed to be on the floor all game in order to win.
That, essentially, means that it isn’t up to D’Antoni as Kobe will play as many minutes as he feels he has to. Therefore, it’s actually up to management to surround Kobe with talent he feels confident in, which leads us to our next key.
For starters, should Steve Nash and Pau Gasol be healthy next season, the two should be able to hold down the fort for Kobe while he recovers, and hopefully will be able to generate enough offense when Kobe returns but isn’t on the floor.
However, the team still needs to find a solid backup to Kobe; one who can defend and create some offense. The recent addition of Nick Young should help in that area for next season.
In the short term, the Lakers have to find a way to infuse some youth into the roster, and in the long term, they need acquire the quality of talent that can co-exist with Bryant and co-produce with him. Not since Shaquille O’Neal left has Kobe had someone who can truly carry an equal load and who can carry the team consistently on nights Bryant simply doesn’t have it or is absent due to injury.
Surely, as Kobe’s career winds down, there will be more nights in which he’s fatigued and/or can’t fully carry the load. That is where the Lakers are poised to make a huge splash in the 2014 free agent market (and 2015 market), and if they do, it’ll mask many of those off-nights or help minimize them.
The Lakers had envisioned Dwight Howard being that player, but he proved not to be, even if he had stayed. In that sense, it will be a lot more beneficial to Kobe if he can play alongside someone like Carmelo Anthony in the future; someone who is accustomed to and capable of carrying a team on his own.
Next Page: Acceptance Of New Role