If the 116-103 home win over the Los Angeles Clippers and 125-94 road loss to the Golden State Warriors taught us anything, it's that L.A. lacks direction. And if Los Angeles is looking to become a postseason team, it cannot wait for Kobe Bryant to return to develop a team identity.
According to Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News, Bryant has scaled back on his activity to allow his surgically repaired torn Achilles tendon to heal from the added pressure. This has his return date in question.
Lakers fans may be anxious for his return, but Kobe is more concerned with avoiding reaggravation than placating the masses—and rightfully so.
Injuries to the lower extremities can always lead to something else. It's not about waiting until I'm 100 percent necessarily. But it’s about making sure you're running with the proper gate. We're not putting stress on other areas that can cause problems down the road.
If Los Angeles can't survive the first month or two without Kobe, its title aspirations are illegitimate to begin with.
It's worth noting that the Warriors converted 15 three-point field goals on 55.6 percent shooting from distance during L.A.'s 31-point loss. It's also worth noting that the Lakers were without point guard Steve Nash.
Unfortunately, only wins and losses shape the postseason picture. Excuses don't.
Athletically Improved, Limited on Stars
Over the course of the 2013 offseason, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak got the three-year-old memo about needing to add athletically gifted players to Los Angeles' second unit. In turn, L.A. finally has the personnel to compete with Western Conference foes who have built explosive offenses.
Unfortunately, the Lakers' infusion of youth has come as the team's star power has begun to dwindle. The few high-profile contributors who are still on the roster are either too old to run with the young athletes or coming off of a severe injury.
Due to this imbalance, the Lakers are in dire need of developing a team identity that brings it all together.
The trio of Kobe, Nash and Pau Gasol would benefit most from working in the half court and using a motion offense. All three are over the age of 33, and each has some form of a history with leg-related injuries.
In turn, running a full-time uptempo offense isn't a rational approach.
Role players, such as Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson and Nick Young, meanwhile, are known for being athletic enough to run in the open court and finish in transition. Farmar is a capable ball-handler and can thrive in most systems, but Johnson and Young have displayed wild inconsistency in half-court sets.
If L.A. fails to bring all of these moving pieces together, 2012-13 will repeat itself.
By waiting for Bryant to return, the Lakers would proceed to ignore the most fundamental flaw on the roster: With or without Kobe, L.A. must figure how to run their offense without creating fatigue in their aging stars and inefficiency from their athletes.
The longer they wait, the deeper a hole the Lakers will dig.
No Telling How Kobe Will Play
If the NBA community has learned anything over the past 17 seasons, it's that it's never wise to bet against Kobe Bryant. Whether he's battled injuries, his own ego, horrendous supporting casts, superstar teammates or elite opponents, Kobe always seems to prevail.
At the age of 35, however, there's no way to truly determine whether or not he'll make a full recovery from a torn Achilles tendon.
What is the Los Angeles Lakers' upside in 2013-14?
Bryant may return to his All-NBA form, but there's no way around the fact that he could also fail to remain elite on the court. I happen to believe he'll be just fine, but a torn Achilles tendon is an injury that could cripple a 25-year-old's quality of play, let alone the career of a player who's 17 years in and has the tread of 1,239 regular-season games on his tires.
For that reason, L.A. needs to build its identity and incorporate Kobe into it instead of basing its approach off of what Bryant could be.
Even if Kobe does return to his usual scoring self, Los Angeles learned the hard way in 2012-13 that it cannot put the entire burden of reaching the postseason upon him. If they do it again in 2013-14, the injury risk will heighten, and Bryant's efficiency will be limited.
Keep in mind, Bryant did tell Jimmy Kimmel that he wants to play less minutes this season.
By developing a team identity prior to his return, however, L.A. can create a system that allows Bryant to shine as the lead scorer without placing an overwhelming amount of pressure upon his surgically repaired legs. In turn, the postseason will become a realistic goal.
Until L.A. learns who it is, however, this season will continue to be one of inconsistent measures.
Waiting on Kobe won't solve that.