Los Angeles Lakers fans probably just assume we should skip the regular season and get to the good stuff.
All but crowned the 2012-13 Western Conference Champions, the assumptions that this club will find itself in the NBA Finals this season are perfectly understandable. These kind of rosters don't come along often—even in L.A.
Reality is a stubborn thing, though, and the regular season will keep the Lakers plenty occupied until things get interesting postseason-style. While the interim represents an important opportunity for the new-look roster to gel, it also poses some difficult questions, especially for head coach Mike Brown.
Front and center among those questions is the extent to which Brown should rest aging superstars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Bryant turned 34 this summer, and Nash will turn 39 on Feb. 7.
There's no question that both keep themselves in the kind of shape envied by more than a few players still in their 20s, but Kobe's litany of preseason bumps and bruises prove that no amount of preparation can fully prevent injury. That's true of players at any age.
It's all the more true for guys who've put their legs through 16 NBA seasons and plenty of playoff appearances.
Sitting atop the standings at the outset of the playoffs would be nice, but having a healthy and rested starting five would be even nicer.
Bryant acknowledged the impact of fatigue last season, one in which a lockout-condensed schedule and his 38.5 minutes a game formed a perfect storm of wear and tear. Kobe himself remained healthy into the postseason, likely thanks in no small part to the eight games he sat out in March on account of minor ailments.
Meanwhile, there was some uncertainty about what exactly was going on with Nash's back.
In April, the New York Post's Peter Vecsey cited sources claiming, "Steve Nash’s back is as bad as it has ever been." Shortly thereafter, the legendary floor general retorted (via ESPN's Marc Stein) that, "It's been my best year physically from start to finish in a long time."
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between, and GM Mitch Kupchak realized as much when acquiring Nash (via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin):
His back certainly has been a topic of discussion. Just by watching him in timeouts, he has to address his health the way he lays on the floor, so it's not a secret that he's had some back discomfort in the past. But he passed our physical [on Tuesday] with flying colors.
Passed physicals aside, Los Angeles is awaiting a back catastrophe in much the same way it anticipates the disastrous earthquake-to-come known as "The Big One." We don't know when it will happen, and we really hope it doesn't.
But, we're due for it any minute now.
Even eternal optimists have to concede the importance of making life as easy as possible for Bryant and Nash. There are no shortage of "safer than sorry" clichés available to explain the logic, a logic with which Mike Brown should be familiar after coaching under Gregg Popovich from 2000 to 2003.
How should Brown approach PT for Bryant and Nash?
Pop has never shied away from sitting his most important assets, either by tightly monitoring their minutes or holding them out of games altogether. He twice interrupted double-digit winning streaks to rest his stars last season, making it abundantly clear where the organization's priorities are.
With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili well into their mid-30s, this kind of precaution is the new normal for San Antonio.
The same should go for the Lakers.
As impressive as this team's frontline is, Bryant and Nash are even more indispensable, ensuring the offense features legitimate play-makers and perimeter threats. To keep up with the high-scoring contenders out West, they'll need to be at the top of their games.
When it comes to scheduling days off, Mike Brown will have to be at the top of his too.