The Black Mamba continues to spend his offseason rehabbing an Achilles tear he suffered back in April that prevented him from playing in the 2013 NBA playoffs. According to a July article by ESPN’s Arash Markazi, the Lakers “not only expect Kobe Bryant to be back by the start of the regular season but believe he could be back by the preseason.”
Considering that Bryant is so far ahead of schedule, having a Plan B, C and D doesn't seem necessary. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst-case scenario. The question will be, what lineups should Mike D'Antoni and his coaching staff utilize if Bryant isn't readily available?
Option One: Veteran Presence
Lineup: Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman
The Los Angeles Lakers currently have the second-oldest roster in the NBA with an average age of 29.2 years. Additionally, they rank third in the NBA with an average experience of 7.5 career seasons.
If Bryant isn't available to start the season, the Lakers should depend on the experience of veteran players to pick up the slack.
Jodie Meeks and Nick Young are the youngsters of this lineup with 10 years of NBA experience combined. Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, meanwhile, have a stunning 39 years of NBA experience under their belts.
This lineup would bring veteran savvy and mental toughness to a team that frequently beat itself on the court last season. Nash, Gasol and Kaman are all former All-Stars who can carry the offensive by setting up in half-court sets.
Meeks and Young are primarily in the lineup for outside shooting, but Meeks is also dealing with injury troubles as he rehabs from torn ligaments in his left ankle. He reportedly will be fully healthy for opening night, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
Admittedly, there are very few options for the Lakers in terms of defense. That end of the court will only get weaker if Bryant isn’t able to play.
Option Two: Perimeter Shooting
Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Pau Gasol
If there’s anything coach D'Antoni loves to do, it's spread the floor on offense.
As a result, putting together a rotation that can shoot from top to bottom makes perfect sense for D'Antoni’s offensive system.
With that said, Gasol should never be relied upon as a perimeter shooter. The Spaniard’s own coaching staff exploited that weakness in his game last season by playing him away from the rim while Dwight Howard occupied the painted area.
While Gasol did experience mid-range shooting success from the right wing, where he shot 55.9 percent last season, he’s far more efficient as a low-post scorer.
If the four-time All-Star plays in the post and is surrounded by perimeter threats, the Lakers offense could prove to be dynamic.
Nash is a career 42.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Meeks hits 36.7 percent, Young nails 37.4 percent and Ryan Kelly shot 42.2 percent from deep last season as a junior at Duke University.
This Lakers lineup can play inside-out with Gasol scoring in the post, drawing double-teams and dishing out to three-point shooters for open looks.
Option Three: Pick-and-Roll
Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol
Although great perimeter shooting highlighted Mike D'Antoni's most successful coaching years, his bread and butter was running the pick-and-roll.
Despite the fact that he won’t have a healthy Amar'e Stoudemire rolling hard to the bucket like he did with the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers coach still has one of the league’s most accomplished point guards to orchestrate the offense.
Ideally, Nash will run pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop plays with Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill. As perimeter threats, Steve Blake and Nick Young can keep the defense from collapsing. Blake also serves a dual purpose because he can handle the ball and run pick-and-rolls of his own.
The only trouble with having Gasol and Hill on the court together is that spacing could become an issue. Nash, Blake and Young spread the floor as outside shooters, but Gasol and Hill function best when they’re both down low in the post.
Ultimately, there may be too much traffic with both guys in the same lineup, much like when Gasol and Howard failed to coexist a year ago.
Option Four: Tank
Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre
Let me preface this section by saying that the Lakers have no intention of tanking during the 2013-14 season. With Nash, Gasol and Bryant on the roster, there’s far too much pride in that locker room to accept a losing culture.
With that said, the 2014 NBA draft class is shaping up to be one of the most talented in recent memory. In fact, Bill Simmons of Grantland.com referenced ESPN draft expert Chad Ford's point of view in a July column:
Chad Ford pointed out that, in 2013, he broke the draft down by tiers — with Tier 1 being "potential franchise players," Tier 2 being "potential All-Stars," Tier 3 being "potential starters," and so on — and there wasn't a single 2013 draft prospect in Tier 1 or Tier 2. In 2014? Right now, we have eight guys in those top two tiers, and that's without factoring in the possibility of one or two more breakout stars.
The bottom line is that there’s a plethora of talented prospects looking to join the NBA in 2014. If the Lakers miss the postseason and join the draft lottery—a real possibility anyway if Bryant doesn’t return to 100 percent—they have a chance at adding a solid piece of the roster puzzle to begin the 2014 offseason.
Again, this is purely hypothetical and won't happen unless D'Antoni gets fired early in the season. Even if he coaches extremely well, there's no guarantee he'll be around for the 2014-15 campaign.
However, a lineup including two mediocre guards (Blake and Farmar), two inexperienced frontcourt players (Kelly and Sacre) and Wesley Johnson’s ugly 40.7 percent shooting (which was a career high last season) would certainly help the Lakers attain better draft position.
Needless to say, Bryant's health means everything to the 2013-14 Lakers season.