Which will entail doing something the team hasn't been able to do in nearly two decades—lighten the Black Mamba's workload.
Or suffer the consequences.
And according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, Los Angeles is set to get a taste of those consequences, as Kobe prepares to sit out the team's final two preseason games with a banged up foot.
Kobe Bryant (foot) will not play in L.A.'s final two preseason games. He'll be re-evaluated over the weekend.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) October 24, 2012
Though the shooting guard's injury is not the result of an overbearing workload, it is a testament to Bryant's mortality—his inability to escape the environmental rigors of the NBA.
We oftentimes forget that Kobe is 34. And while his athletic prowess suggests otherwise, his body is still aging—that same body that has played through countless injuries for the past 16 seasons.
And as he prepares to enter his 17th, this foot injury must serve as a reminder that the Lakers are dealing with a different kind of Kobe.
Yes, he's still the player you want to have the ball with the game on the line, he's still the player you want to score at will and he's still the player you want to vocalize himself on the court.
But the thing is, he cannot do any of that—score, lead, win—if he is incapable of being on the floor; he can no longer be effective if he is expected to do too much.
Which is exactly what he has been expected to do over the last 16 years, a span in which he never missed more than 16 games during the course of a regular season, a span that saw him stave off injuries for the sake of the team.
Well, now it's time for the Lakers to look out for Kobe, the same way he has looked out for them, the same way he has sheltered them from his mortality for so long.
With names like Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to go along with Bryant, it's nearly impossible not to praise Los Angeles' depth chart, to believe there has never been a better time for the Mamba to play less than 35 minutes per game—something he has done only three times his entire career, and once in the last 14 seasons.
Yet while Los Angeles' starting lineup is the embodiment of star power, its roster, its bench, is anything except "deep."
Did the Lakers add some much needed firepower in the forms of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks?
Yes, but outside of them, who can the team depend on?
No one, which is why Los Angeles will depend on Meeks to run the point more than Steve Blake or Chris Duhon. And it's also cause for the team to overwork Bryant, to not provide him with the rest he needs, the rest he deserves.
Yet, unless the Lakers are keen on facing a large portion of the 2012-13 campaign without him, they'll have to find a way to establish a medium.
You see, right now, depth may be an obstacle for the Lakers, but it can no longer be considered Kobe's problem. Sure, he's eating up nearly $28 million in payroll, but this season, on the heels of reaching 34 and now suffering another injury, he cannot carry the same burden he always has.
And it's up to the Lakers to get the hint, to pick up on the groundwork Kobe's health bill is currently laying. Because refusing to admit the obvious isn't going to get this team anywhere.
Overusing Bryant does not stress his importance to the team. If anything, in the end, it will diminish it when he's watching from the sidelines as he rehabilitates an injury of greater severity.
Which is why this injury is a blessing in disguise.
It has proven early on that—unhappy accidents or not—Bryant has limitations, that he's not immune to injury. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times even reports that Kobe himself said his foot would have kept him on the sidelines even if he had suffered the injury during the regular season.
So maybe the Lakers aren't reading into Bryant's age.
Maybe to them, age is but a number.
Maybe they refuse to listen or adhere to evidence that suggests Father Time catches up with everyone. Maybe they've grown accustomed to ignoring the inevitable.
Well, there's no eluding reality now.
The Lakers need to listen to Kobe, to his body, to his ankle and ensure he is not worked to the point of exhaustion, to the point of injury.
Lest they watch him, his ankle and their championship aspirations crumble under the weight of their own, unrealistic expectations.
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