Mike D'Antoni's Comments on Kobe Bryant Should Scare Laker Fans

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 08:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks up to the scoreboard during their game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on January 8, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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For the Los Angeles Lakers to recover from what can only be dubbed a disastrous 17-22 start, they'll undoubtedly require heavy nightly contributions from Kobe Bryant.

But there are legitimate concerns over how effective the 34-year-old can be with a growing number of responsibilities.

He's answered the bell and then some throughout the early portion of this season, pouring in a league-high 29.7 points per game. And he's efficiently found those buckets on the strength of his career-best 47.4 field-goal percentage.

The Lakers have asked Bryant to fill a laundry list of roles, from the familiar closer to the atypical distributor as the club struggled to find viable creators when both Steve Nash and Steve Blake were sidelined by injury.

But coach Mike D'Antoni's looking to add to Bryant's chores, in a way that just might leave the 16-year veteran stretched too thin:


Mike D'Antoni has no plans to stop having Kobe Bryant play defense on the opponent's best ball handler ... sulia.com/c/la-lakers/f/…

— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 18, 2013


The Lakers' latest concern has nothing to do with Bryant's inability to find defensive stops. His 12 appearances on the All-NBA Defensive Team (including nine first-team appearances, via basketball-reference.com) speak for themselves.

Rather, the issue at hand becomes whether Bryant has enough left in the tank to be both the team's best offensive weapon and best on-ball defender.

After all, he's fewer than 12 months removed from logging 38.5 minutes per game in last season's condensed 66-game schedule. Not to mention the fact that he followed up that physically taxing workload with nearly 40 minutes per game in 12 postseason contests, then followed that by contributing to Team USA's Olympic gold medal run.

He conceded that his playing time combined with the shortened rest periods had taken its toll during a March 2012 interview.

And it's not as if D'Antoni has dialed back Bryant's playing time this season, as his 38.7 minutes per game leads all Lakers and ranks fourth overall in the entire league.

The problem for the Lakers coach is the fact that his club has struggled mightily on both ends of the floor.

He can't ease up on Bryant's offensive looks, not with the Mamba tallying 12 more points than the team's second-leading scorer, Dwight Howard (17.7). With Howard's shot attempts fluctuating along with the effectiveness of both Metta World Peace (42.4 percent) and Pau Gasol (42.0), Bryant has been the team's only constant offensive threat.

And D'Antoni can ill afford too many dribble drives from the opposition, particularly with a still-laboring Howard and a diffident Gasol protecting the basket.

D'Antoni has tried to manage Bryant's minutes by calling on reserve Jodie Meeks, but the supposed marksman has connected on just 37.8 percent of his field-goal attempts. And, to put it kindly, Meeks hasn't shown enough on the defensive end to outweigh his offensive ineffectiveness.

Both D'Antoni and Bryant desperately need Howard to discover a clean bill of health. They need Howard demanding touches on the offensive end to put his 58.6 field-goal percentage to better use. And if the three-time Defensive Player of the Year can get his legs back under him, the team will better withstand the penetration of opposing guards.

It might appear a little too easy for Bryant when he's at his best, but the guy is still human.

The Lakers can't sacrifice Bryant's future production in pursuit of what looks, at best, like an improbable postseason push.

*All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 1/17/2013.