Considering that L.A. has yet to name its coach, we can only theorize what style will fit Bryant best.
Luckily, I came prepared.
Before delving into the Lakers’ philosophy going forward, it’s important to understand what the Purple and Gold will be working with as a whole.
Not the Lakers of Old
After winning just 27 games last season, it seems fairly clear that these Lakers aren’t quite as talented as they were in previous seasons.
Granted, injuries were part of the reason Los Angeles struggled. Bryant missed 76 games with an Achilles tear and knee fracture. Steve Nash was sidelined for 67 contests, due to nerve damage in his back. Pau Gasol sat out 22 games because of illness and vertigo.
Because of these absences, there just wasn’t much to work with last season, and the roster makeup suggests that this will be the case next year.
There might be some good news: The Lakers have cap space heading into this summer. However, general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear to Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina in April that the Lakers were rebuilding, and their finances could give them options “for the next year or two or three.”
As a result, we are left to conclude, at least for the time being, that the focus of the offense will be Kobe. It’s tough to envision any quality player joining the Lakers to play with an aging and possibly broken-down Bryant.
Yes, the Lakers are closely monitoring the situations surrounding Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, according to USA TODAY’s Sam Amick, because both players can opt out of their deals this summer. But should we really expect either one to relish the idea of playing with Kobe in the twilight of his career?
I say no.
Consequently, whatever offense the Lakers run will revolve around the talents of Kobe Bean.
L.A. should adopt the Princeton offense in order to maximize Bryant’s skills.
My clairvoyance already kicked in and alerted me that you had a question: Wasn’t this what got Mike Brown fired?
Absolutely. Brown was dismissed five games into the 2012-13 campaign because the Lakers couldn’t win (1-4 record) and occasionally looked lost on offense.
That was a different time.
The Lakers were expected to contend for a title that year because L.A. acquired Dwight Howard and Nash, both of which should have been starring next to Kobe and Gasol.
The inability to get all four playing at a high level cost Brown his job.
By virtue of a lack of talent, expectations will be different next season. The franchise is going through a transition period, and the team needs to be entertaining more than anything. Winning would surely be enjoyable. But let’s not kid ourselves. Short of a massive free-agency coup, the Lakers will be bad.
Thus, the only way left for L.A. to rally around this team is by watching Kobe get bucket after bucket on a nightly basis.
That’s where the Princeton offense will work wonders for Bryant.
During the short period that Los Angeles employed Brown in 2012-13, Bryant was spectacular scoring the ball. In those five games, he averaged 27.2 points on 56 percent shooting, per NBA.com.
The Princeton offense worked wonders for him because he consistently got high-percentage looks. The Lakers used him mostly off the ball, where defenses had an incredibly tough time guarding him.
Bryant worked off screens, cuts and handoffs to get exceptionally clean looks. Watch him rub off Nash for a catch and finish:
In addition, the big men camped out around the high post, which allowed Kobe to go backdoor or simply use one of the high-post players as a screen while cutting toward the hoop. Observe:
The offense allowed him to routinely get into the paint where defenses simply had no means of stopping him. Watch here as Howard finds him on a back cut:
If you favor dunks, Howard set him up nicely again here:
It’s worth noting, Bryant’s physical state might be somewhat compromised after dealing with two major injuries within the same calendar year.
Hence, beating guys off the dribble or playing out on the wing could prove challenging for the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.
As a result, the Lakers might use him every now and then at the wing and also station him in the post (be it high, pinch or low post). The offensive alignment will allow him to occasionally get all the way to the hoop even through post-ups.
The Princeton offense will take advantage of his finishing and shooting ability, thus allowing him to get the looks he wants.
Therefore, I’m inclined to believe that the Lakers should get someone who has run the offense before and had success with it. It will be the best thing for Bryant.
Where could the Lakers unearth such a candidate?
The Man L.A. Needs
The Lakers can simply search within their own family to find the guy capable of placating Kobe offensively. His name is Byron Scott.
He used the Princeton offense during his time coaching the New Jersey Nets, and it helped him get to consecutive NBA Finals (2002-2003).
Coincidence or not, the Lakers have interviewed him twice for their vacant coaching position, according to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard's report over at ESPN LA.
Scott played for the Lakers during the 1980s and won three titles playing alongside Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
His last year in the league happened to coincide with Bryant’s first.
Scott served as a mentor for the rookie, and that bond still exists today.
In an interview on ESPN radio in late May, he offered some details (transcript via Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk): “We communicate during the summer by text, and every now and then, I’ll run into him somewhere and we’ll talk a little bit more about basketball. But I think the biggest thing is, No. 1, I respect the hell out of Kobe, and I think he respects me.”
To be clear, he is more than just a former Laker. He steered New Jersey to the biggest stage in basketball twice.
That might be a forgotten detail of his coaching tenure, given the most recent elements of his resume. He was fired from the New Orleans Hornets after a 3-6 start during the 2009-10 season, despite leading the team to consecutive postseason berths the years prior.
Life is all about expectations, though, right?
The Lakers will want an entertaining unit, not necessarily one with title aspirations given L.A.’s marginal talent. The best way to do so requires pairing up Bryant with Scott, and the former Laker seems to agree.
“I am the perfect guy for this job,” Scott said in the same interview with ESPN radio. “I’ve got a great relationship with Kobe. I know the team, know the roster, watched them all season long. And I just think it would be a great fit.”