Once upon a time, the Los Angeles Lakers had a healthy, starting-caliber point guard. Don't bother asking his name; I don't know it. It's been that long. Just know they don't have one now.
But they will.
In due time, the Black Mamba will return from his Achilles injury, looking dapper in his game-day bib and tucker, sporting a smile and clutching the rock, with the sole intention of doing what Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar can't—running the Lakers offense.
If Not Kobe, Then Who?
It's a word that doesn't come to mind when thinking about the Lakers. Injuries frequent their roster like missed free throws at an Andre Drummond charity-stripe party. Cruel combinations of age, hard cheese and rotten luck have pillaged through their personnel, showing no mercy.
Healthy point guards have been especially scarce. Persisting nerve pains in Nash's back have limited him to just six games this season, setting the stage for premature retirement talk.
The Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina says that the 39-year-old has returned to practice, but the extent of good news ends there, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin:
Steve Nash: "If I race to come back Friday and it’s not quite right, I could be out forever or for months"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 3, 2013
Alrighty then. Nash is in good enough shape to practice, but playing puts his career in jeopardy. Double-edged swords never cut so deep.
Moments like these, that make you want to cry, drink or listen to emo ballads on repeat, are why the Lakers have more than one floor general.
Pushing 40 and having missed a career-high 32 games in 2012-13, Nash was never going to be the solution at point guard this season. Part of it maybe, but they needed reinforcements just in case the bad-tempered Father Time was feeling particularly churlish. This is what Farmar and Steve Blake are in Los Angeles for.
Scratch that; it's what Blake is in Los Angeles for.
Farmar will miss around four weeks with a torn left hamstring, joining Nash on the "Wow, This Sucks" list, further impoverishing an already bankrupted point guard corps.
That leaves Blake to quarterback the Lakers. And the still-sidelined Kobe, too.
When he returns, that is. Turner Sports' Rachel Nichols and McMenamin indicate Kobe won't be ready for a looming bout against the Sacramento Kings:
Kobe tells me he's getting closer to returning but that he's not planning on playing Friday (Lakers' next game)— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) December 5, 2013
Kobe Bryant just told me that he is NOT going to be playing Friday against Sacramento. He is not ruling out Sunday against Toronto, however— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 5, 2013
Upon return, whenever that is, he'll have to play some point guard. He has no choice.
Blake, who is almost 34, has thrived leading Los Angeles' merry band of misfits, but he cannot handle playmaking duties alone. He's already logging more than 30 minutes a night and the Lakers won't want to test the freezing-cold age waters any further.
So, just Kobe.
Kobe? A Point Guard?
My sentiments exactly.
Kobe isn't a point guard; he's a volume-chucking shooting guard with the court vision of a point God. Save your "LOLs" for the hour-long documentary on Ronnie Brewer's jump shot, because I'm not kidding.
Last season, the Lakers were at their best when Kobe ran point. And he had to run point. Many of the same issues plaguing the Lakers now were gnawing at them last season. Out of necessity, Vino routinely assumed the roll of a point guard who loves to shoot. Think Russell Westbrook, sans the extra terrestrial-looking brainpan.
Urging Kobe to play out of position was cause for alarm at first. The Mamba shoots. He can pass as well, but dishing is secondary to shooting. Chucking. Scoring. Disastrous consequences awaited.
Kobe played some of his best basketball last season instead, becoming the oldest player in NBA history to average at least 27 points, five rebounds and six assists per game. Those six assists of his tied a career high. And he assisted on 29.7 percent of Los Angeles' made baskets when on the floor, which was a career high.
Turns out the Lakers were at their best when Kobe was at point, too.
When he dished out at least six assists last season, the Lakers were 28-12, which means I'm telling you that the Lakers won 70 percent of their games on the nights Kobe simply reached his season average. Be impressed. Be very, very impressed.
The Lakers only won 45 games last season, barely clinching a playoff spot. But when Kobe went all point guard on the opposition, their winning percentage rivaled that of the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
How do you like Kobe Bryant, resident point God, now?
The Only Move; The Right Move
This isn't last season. Kobe hasn't even returned to the lineup yet and already the Lakers are looking at him to run their offense for stretches at a time. We don't know even know if Kobe is Kobe. That's not exactly fair.
Which is just how Kobe likes it. Just how he needs it.
The Lakers aren't asking Kobe to be a healthy Nash here. Remember that, because it's important. Blake is already shouldering a majority of the playmaking, and his career-best 7.7 assists per game and 36.4 assist percentage indicate he's doing a damn good job of it.
Don't think of Kobe, then, as a savior at point guard. Look at him as depth. See him as a player returning under less-than-ideal circumstances, but in a way that actually benefits him.
We saw Kobe dunk. All of us. He referred to it as a "strong layup" to McMenamin, before admitting that he won't let the public see him jam off his injured left leg just yet.
"I just refuse to jump off my left leg in front of any media right now," Kobe joked.
Is playing Kobe at point guard a good move for the Lakers?
Is he actually kidding or is he perhaps favoring his injury, worrying that he could aggravate it? Mamba would have us believe he has no qualms about driving, attacking and exploding, and we should believe him. But as the primary playmaker, he doesn't have to place as much faith in his Achilles, which is a good thing, no matter how healthy he claims to be.
Point guards don't have to finish the way Kobe finishes. They're supposed to pass. Facilitate. Handling the ball undoubtedly puts more pressure on Kobe, driving his usage rate through the roof, but floor generals play a different style.
Running point could actually save Kobe energy. Preserve the lift in his jumper. Explosion in his legs.
"If this is going to be my last two years, which it probably will be, I'm going to give absolutely everything I have and then some," Kobe told McMenamin.
This was always going to happen. The Lakers were always going to ask the world of 35-year-old Kobe, and then some.
For his part, Kobe wouldn't have it any other way.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Dec. 5, 2013 unless otherwise noted.