On August 23rd, Kobe Bean Bryant will turn 34 years old. The Black Mamba can still get the job done out on the court considering he averaged 27.9 points per game last season, but a handful of factors should dictate a decrease in minutes played next season.
Over the course of 58 games played last season as a 33-year-old with 15 seasons of NBA experience under his belt, Bryant averaged 38.5 minutes per game.
That's a 4.6 minute per game increase from the 2010-2011 season when Bryant was healthy enough to play all 82 regular-season games.
That 38.5 number wasn't a career high for Bryant, but it was above his career average of 36.5 minutes per game.
The increase in minutes from the season before could be attributed to the presence of the Los Angeles Lakers' new head coach, Mike Brown.
Brown was put under the pressure of coaching in Los Angeles for a storied franchise, as well as filling the shoes of coaching legend Phil Jackson.
The former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers may have relied too heavily on Bryant in his first year, when he should have monitored his minutes more closely.
Next season may be a different story, though, and here are five reasons why Bryant's minutes could (and should) decrease next season.
As I touched on briefly in the introduction, the need to monitor Bryant’s minutes moving forward starts with the coaching staff.
Mike Brown is certainly no stranger to coaching in the NBA. Having spent five seasons coaching in Cleveland and even winning Coach of the Year honors in 2009 may in fact make Brown one of the league’s most underrated coaches. However, the pressure of coaching Bryant in L.A. certainly put him in a bigger spotlight when compared with his days in Cleveland.
Now that Brown has acclimated himself to his new situation in Los Angeles and some of the criticism has alleviated (at least for now), he can settle in and focus on the big picture.
The last thing Brown will want to deal with next season is Bryant breaking down because he’s being asked to play too many minutes.
Making the playoffs as a high seed is important in terms of locking up home-court advantage. However, the ultimate goal, especially for a team as talented as the Lakers, is winning a championship.
Overworking Bryant during the regular season doesn’t make much sense when he needs to be 100 percent healthy in the postseason to lead the team against the battle-tested elite of the Western Conference.
Look for Brown and the rest of the Lakers’ coaching staff to monitor Bryant’s minutes more closely next season when compared to last season.
Not only is Bryant coming off of a lockout-shortened year with a grueling 66-game schedule that included two tough playoff matchups with the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder, but he’s also competing for Team USA basketball in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Although Bryant probably would never admit to being fatigued, his stamina may be hindered by the combination of playing in the Olympics, his age and last season’s tough schedule.
Keeping his minutes down would be an important factor even if Bryant wasn’t playing in the Summer Olympics. So considering he’s playing a key role on a team in the hunt for a gold medal, that should dictate a decrease in minutes.
Keeping Bryant healthy and refreshed when the postseason rolls around will be vital to the Lakers’ championship aspirations.
Although keeping No. 24 sidelined may not always be in the best interest of the coaching staff, they should sacrifice for the greater good.
Last season, Andrew Bynum was able to avoid missing a significant amount of games for the first time since 2007. Due to his health, Bynum notched career highs in minutes per game (35.2), points per game (18.7) and rebounds per game (11.8).
In addition, the Lakers’ young big man shot 55.8 percent from the field on 13.3 field-goal attempts per game. When compared to Bryant’s 43 percent shooting on 23 field-goal attempts per game, Bynum was the more efficient scorer from a statistical perspective (by a wide margin).
Bynum appears poised for a bigger role on the Lakers next season, and what better way to give Bryant rest than to make the offense run through the efficiency of Bynum down low in the post?
The seven-footer averaged more than 18 points per game a season ago on just 13.3 field-goal attempts per game. Given a bigger opportunity to showcase his talents, those numbers should only go up.
The Lakers are at their best when the team is clicking on all cylinders and cutting through opposing defenses with a variety of offensive threats.
When Bryant starts hoisting up contested shots and forcing the issue with the talent around him, that’s when the Lakers get into trouble.
If Bynum can stay healthy again next season and build on a career year, his presence will go a long way to allowing Bryant rest.
The addition of Steve Nash gives the Lakers something they haven’t had in a long, long time: an incredibly skilled point guard.
Whether or not Nash and Bryant can coexist on the court together next season is a mystery, but what isn’t a mystery is how the 38-year-old point guard will improve the play of those around him, especially Pau Gasol.
Nash’s uncanny ability to run the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game on offense has improved the all-around play of Amar’e Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat and others.
Gasol fits the prototype of skilled power forward that Nash fits with as well as peanut butter fits with jelly (still undecided as to who is peanut butter, Nash or Gasol). Whether Gasol is diving to the basket off screens or spotting up for open jumpers, Nash will find him and give him the opportunity to pour in the points.
Regardless of how Nash and Bryant play together while both are out on the court, Nash’s ability to create on offense as the floor general and get the best out of his teammates could potentially create two different offensive dynamics in Los Angeles next season.
One dynamic could be the offense with Bryant, which runs through his isolations. Although it wouldn’t play to Nash’s greatest strengths, Nash is a lights out shooter who can easily knock down open shots from the perimeter when opposing defenses are busy watching Bryant operate.
The second dynamic would be the offense run by Nash while Bryant rests his legs. Nash led a vastly mediocre Phoenix Suns team to a .500 record last season, so the possibilities he has with a much better supporting cast in L.A. should rejuvenate the 38-year-old.
Ideally, Nash and Bryant will fit together and play to each other’s strengths. If that doesn’t come to fruition, at least Nash can limit Bryant’s minutes while guiding the offense when he’s on the bench.
NBA championships are not won in November or December. Even though the excitement of intriguing matchups on Christmas day holds a lot of weight for the fans, those games mean very little in the grand scheme of the regular season.
The Los Angeles Lakers have two, possibly three more seasons left of a championship window with Nash and Bryant leading the way. As a result, the ultimate goal of winning a title should lead to a decrease in Bryant’s minutes during the regular season.
Bryant has a ton of miles on the odometer to this point in his career. He’s logged more than 42,000 regular-season minutes during his career, plus more than 8,600 additional minutes from postseason play.
That’s well over 50,000 total minutes played as an NBA player. For a guy who never takes a play off (looking at you, Vince Carter), Bryant’s total minutes probably carry more weight than most.
Lakers’ head coach Mike Brown has some new tools to tinker with in Nash and Antawn Jamison. The Lakers would be smart to add more depth moving forward to take more pressure off of Bryant, but with his winning pedigree, it’s safe to say he’ll play through just about anything come playoff time.