5 Reasons to Believe That Kobe Bryant Is Ready to Accept a Reduced Role
The Los Angeles Lakers just added a lot of talent to a roster that was already pretty talented. That will have any number of intended and unintended consequences alike, but the most intriguing is what will become of Kobe Bryant.
The iconic shooting guard is no stranger to playing with other superstars, but this will be the first time he's played alongside three of them since 2004, and you really can't compare the declining Karl Malone and Gary Payton to what L.A. now has on hand.
And apart from personnel adjustments, the Lakers will also be looking to shake up their game plan by making the Princeton offense an integral component of their strategy.
With Bryant's time to win a sixth title running short (in relative terms, anyway), there won't be much time to figure things out. The good news is that cerebral leaders like Kobe are as well-equipped as anyone to learn new tricks.
The even better news is that he's willing to makes changes, even if it means accepting a slightly reduced role (emphasis on the "slightly")—or at least we think he's willing to. Here are five reasons why.
He's No Dummy
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Kobe Bryant knows the writing is on the wall. It's one thing for him to be the best player on the Los Angeles Lakers, but it's quite another for the club to be so dependent on him to bail it out time after time.
He may still be one of the game's two or three best scorers, but predictable offense is predictable no matter who's running it.
When Bryant had the ball in his hands, chances are he'd be the one shooting it last season. And guess what: The other team knew that too. While you'd rather have Bryant shoot the ball all things being equal, they really aren't equal in a world where those shots become so difficult and contested.
Besides obviously adding Steve Nash, GM Mitch Kupchak also acquired scoring options like Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks this summer. That should make it easier on Kobe to let someone else do some of that perimeter scoring from time to time.
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Kobe Bryant turned 34 this summer, but it's worth pointing out the obvious—he's not your average 34-year-old player.
Nevertheless, he's getting to a place where keeping him fresh for the postseason might begin to weigh more heavily on head coach Mike Brown's mind. With the Lakers' improved backcourt depth, he might actually have the luxury of sitting Bryant for longer stretches or perhaps even for entire games.
How that translates into this season's rotation clearly remains to be seen, but you can be relatively certain Bryant won't be averaging nearly 39 minutes again this season.
On the other hand, it's hard to imagine him playing fewer than 34 or 35 every night. But hey, a reduced role is a reduced role.
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And why would he?
At this point in his career, Kobe has been there and done that. He's proven everything he can prove with the exception of matching or surpassing Jordan's title count, so it's pretty reasonable for priorities to take a turn. Bryant's goals aren't so much about MVP awards and personal accolades anymore.
They're about winning.
Of course, we can read too much into Bryant's Olympic deference. It's apples to the NBA's oranges. But, at the least, it's a small sign that Bryant is satisfied with where his brand is at the moment and is now focusing on getting that sixth ring.
Interest in Nash
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It wasn't like the Los Angeles Lakers were bringing in Kobe Bryant's replacement when they signed Steve Nash this summer. Even so, the two-time MVP will play a prominent role in running the offense, and you can imagine a scenario in which that turned Bryant off.
Not so, though.
Instead, Bryant said (and probably meant) all the right things when the Lakers acquired Nash this summer (via ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne):
"He gives us a much, much better chance," Bryant said after the first day of USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas. "He's a terrific shooter. And shooting is something that was lacking for us. His ability to playmaker for others out of the pick and roll is one of the best we've ever seen. He has a high basketball IQ, in terms of being a coach out on the floor."
Chances are GM Mitch Kupchak consulted Bryant before making the move, so comments like this count more as pleasantries than anything else. They're still a good sign that Kobe's okay with playing off the ball more and allowing someone else to take control of important game situations.
Supporting the Princeton Offense
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The Princeton offense may have the effect of reducing Kobe Bryant's field-goal attempts, at least marginally. He should still get plenty of looks, likely even better looks than he's become accustomed to.
You might worry that he'd be somewhat resistant to a motion-based system that keeps the ball on the move rather than in his hands.
But Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports the switch to a new system had his blessing from Day 1:
Kobe Bryant has been searching for spacing and freedom and flow on offense, for a way to counter defenses bent on sagging and suffocating him on the floor. Even before the Los Angeles Lakers delivered him point guard Steve Nash, Bryant had raised an idea with coach Mike Brown about the possibility of employing a distant cousin to the triangle – the Princeton offense.
Bryant understands that it's ultimately in his best interest for the rest of this teammates to draw the defensive attention for a change.
Whatever happens to his productivity, you can almost assuredly count on him scoring more efficiently. Less shots for Bryant should also help his teammates get into the flow of games, meaning they'll get more touches and should in turn be more effective when they get them.