Kobe Bryant is accustomed to directing the L.A. Lakers.
The former league MVP suffered an Achilles tear late in the 2012-13 campaign and was expected to miss somewhere between six and nine months. Ownership suggested that Bryant could potentially be ready in time for the 2013-14 preseason, but that ship has essentially sailed.
At present time, some are speculating that the four-time All-Star Game MVP will return right around Thanksgiving. It stands to reason that Bryant will need time to adjust to the speed of the game, and furthermore, he will need time to cope with his physical limitations.
LAL Steve Nash to Y! Sports on Kobe's likely return: “I think he will be back some time between the beginning of the season & Thanksgiving.”— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) October 1, 2013
Consequently, the five-time champion will spend parts of 2013-14 operating at less than full strength.
In dealing with the numerous injuries he has previously encountered, Bryant has made a multitude of adjustments to continue playing at a high level. However, the Achilles rupture he suffered is arguably the worst health issue he has been forced to tackle. Hence, his patience will be tested like never before.
Prior to rejoining his teammates on the hardwood, the two-time finals MVP will watch the Lakers play without him and develop some chemistry in his absence.
The Purple and Gold will grow accustomed to playing without their superstar 2-guard. Nick Young will become comfortable as one of the main cogs in the offense, and Steve Nash will hold the keys to the Lakers offense.
Upon his return, Bryant will change the dynamic of the team by fully immersing himself into the offense. Consider this little tidbit: Since the departure of Shaquille O'Neal during the 2004 offseason, Bryant has finished at least in the top four every year in usage percentage.
In addition, on three separate occasions, he has led the NBA in this particular category. In other words, few players utilize more possessions on a nightly basis than the Lakers' all-time leading scorer.
During the Bryant era, the Lakers have employed the triangle offense, the Princeton offense and the spread pick-and-roll to name a few. The one constant in every system has been Bryant's iron grip on the team.
Even in instances where he played off the ball, the future Hall of Fame guard always managed to have the rock in his hands. Whether it was with the intent of directing traffic or setting up his own scoring opportunities, everything went through Bryant.
Obviously, it has become customary and practically an obligation of sorts for the former league MVP to dictate the flow of the ball. Thus, he will more than likely expect the status quo to remain when he gets back into the lineup.
This certainly makes sense in the event that Bryant is operating at peak form. But one can safely assume that will not be the case initially. What's more, there is also a possibility that the face of the Lakers franchise will be a shell of his former self at least in 2013-14.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hinted as much in an interview on CBS Sports Radio's morning show (transcribed by Ken Berger of CBS Sports): "When Kobe does come back, it's gonna be a different Kobe and that will definitely effect the outcome for the Lakers long-term," Abdul-Jabbar said. "... It's gonna be a test for him this year, absolutely."
With his skills in decline, there is a belief that Bryant might submarine team dynamics in an effort to continue to monopolize the offense. Granted, he would not do so with the intent of ruining the team's season.
If anything, it would be the opposite. O'Neal's departure from the Lakers in 2004 resulted in Bryant becoming the best player on the team and therefore its shot caller. The Purple and Gold have since been dependent on the marquee guard as it pertains to winning.
Indeed, Bryant has led the Lakers to eight postseason appearances and two titles after Los Angeles traded away the former Lakers big man. Thus, it seems quite apparent that he is at the center of the Purple and Gold's success.
That mentality has been ingrained in him throughout his career and has been validated with his trips to the mountaintop. That pride and killer instinct rarely comes with an off switch.
Bryant has been conditioned to believe he is the team's best chance at victory. As a result, his return from injury will be a rocky one. His pursuit of excellence has made him a control freak of the highest order, and frankly, one struggles to imagine him differently.
This means that there will be nights where Mike D'Antoni will have to win in spite of his superstar shooting guard. Bryant will dominate the ball and follow the script of 2012-13.
He will have Nash give up his ball-handling duties and aggressively attack schemes that present him with single coverage. Typically, the Lakers enjoy this scenario.
However, a hampered Bryant will probably have some difficulty scoring against the opposition's best perimeter defender. It's not so much that he will get stopped, but rather that he will limit himself with his shot selection.
Bryant has never been shy about shooting against double-teams or taking low-percentage shots in the past. In addition, he has routinely made it his business to play the role of maestro and dictate the terms in which his teammates obtained field-goal attempts.
None of this is about to change. The coaching staff must hope that the Lakers can tread water during the time it takes for Bryant to resemble at least in part the player fans watched in 2012-13. Ideally, this will take a matter of weeks.
Mind you, there is a possibility that Bryant's rupture Achilles will prevent him from being an elite player in his first season post-surgery. If that's the case, the Lakers will struggle while their best player tries to forge a new identity.
His controlling nature and alpha-male mind-set will not allow him to make concessions. Thus, sink or swim, the Lakers' 2013-14 campaign will be decided on Bryant's terms.