The momentous summer was good for some anticipatory excitement, but we all know who the difference-maker will be come May (and hopefully June). Howard and Nash have both come close, but only the iconic Laker has walked away with title in hand.
If this season is to yield his sixth, this franchise needs Bryant as much as it ever has.
Without him, the Lakers amount to a very good, but very one-dimensional team—an offense missing a dynamic perimeter scorer and a proven closer. The new-look Lakers may be better, but they're assured of very little without a healthy and rested Bryant.
So, it should come as no surprise that Bryant didn't practice on Friday, Oct. 5, on account of a sore right foot—before returning on Saturday and then playing 19 minutes against the Golden State Warriors in the club's first preseason contest.
Official explanations aside, that Friday absence just might have had more to do with keeping the 34-year-old fresh than it did keeping him healthy.
The Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan reports that the foot itself wasn't much of a problem:
I've been told that Kobe would be practicing/playing if this was the regular season. Doesn't sound like his sore foot is a big issue. #rest— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 6, 2012
While there's always the possibility Mike Brown was simply taking the utmost precaution, chances are his rationale for sitting Bryant had more to do with making good on a goal he established way back at the beginning of last season: Playing his most essential superstar fewer minutes.
Despite the good intentions, of course, Kobe wound up averaging 38.5 minutes a game—more than he even played in 2010-11.
In fairness to Brown, it's easier said than done.
But, he's saying it again all the same (via the Los Angeles Times' Ben Bolch).
"If I can, I'd definitely love to keep his minutes down and not have them up to 38," Brown said.
"But I'm sure he'll tell you he can play 48, which is probably true if he needed to. But we feel like we have a deep team this year and hopefully at the end of the day it leads to reduced minutes for him."
Of course, keeping Bryant out of games that actually count will be a lot harder than limiting his preseason activities. A practice off here and there is a step in the right direction, but it's an easily affordable one at that.
No Laker is better prepared to take on the team's new Princeton offense—a system that relies on the same kind of read-and-react principles with which Kobe became familiar while playing within Phil Jackson's Triangle schemes.
Nor is any Laker in a better position to step right into regular season action.
Bryant kept busy during the offseason with those Summer Olympics, and he has never been one to enter training camp in anything but the best physical shape.
The only adjustments he'll need to make involve getting a feel for Howard and Nash playing alongside him in the starting lineup.
That shouldn't be too hard either.
If there were ever a time to get Bryant some extra rest, this is it.
The Lakers need him at his best against the likes of the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Nuggets. Even with the infusion of new talent, this team's worst enemy is fatigue—a fate to which even Bryant can succumb.
He'll still play 40 minutes when needed, and he'll still carry more than his share of this team's scoring burden.
Whenever possible, though, he needs a break. Fresh legs are a must in the long-term.
Sore foot or otherwise, Brown should be using his best player on an as-needed basis—in other words, not at this very moment.