Jeremy Lin's Playing Time Will Continue to Suffer After Kobe Bryant Injury

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2015

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, talks to Jeremy Lin during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers don’t care about your conventional wisdom. 

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the removal of an injured Kobe Bryant from the lineup would free up more playing time and shooting opportunities for fellow backcourt mate Jeremy Lin considering Bryant’s 22.3 points per game and, most importantly, 20.4 field-goal attempts per game.

That is a lot of scoring and shooting that has to go to someone on Los Angeles.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Lin was the only other guard on the roster (Nick Young is listed as a small forward) outside of Bryant averaging double-figures scoring entering Friday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, so the ball would likely be in his hands even more so than usual after Bryant’s injury.

After all, Bryant may be one of the greatest players of all time, but he’s not exactly someone who is known to willingly give up shots on a consistent basis.

Conventional wisdom was wrong Friday.

Lin didn’t just miss out on that increase of usage, he missed out on the entire game against San Antonio. Lin received a "Did Not Play" for the game based on a coach’s decision, which triggered these reactions from Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times and Adi Joseph of USA Today:

Howard Megdal of Sports Illustrated and USA Today looked at the decision to not play Lin through that prism of no Bryant and certainly seemed surprised by coach Byron Scott’s decision:

Perhaps the craziest thing of all regarding Lin’s zero minutes on Friday was that the lack of playing time may not be a blip on the radar screen moving forward.

While Lin is certainly not the player he used to be when he was the talk of the league in a New York Knicks uniform, this situation is more about the long-term future of the team than any shortcomings in Lin’s game.

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

Lin was still averaging 10.5 points a night entering Friday, and one would think that was good enough for at least a spot in the rotation on a 12-32 Lakers team that is headed nowhere significant this season.

Therein lies the issue for Lin, though. The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this season—a fact that was only made even clearer when Bryant went down with injury—which means there is very little motivation to actually put Lin on the court from an organizational perspective.

Since the team is no longer playing for any type of realistic postseason scenarios, it is in the Lakers’ best long-term interest to give a youngster like 22-year-old Jordan Clarkson extended minutes in the backcourt to see what he can do in game situations.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

That was the case Friday when Clarkson started and Wayne Ellington and Ronnie Price received significant minutes. While Price and Ellington may not exactly be youngsters (31 and 27 years old, respectively), both could figure into the future plans of the Lakers more so than Lin.

Ethan Norof of Turner Sports noted that the Lakers have shifted into a planning-for-the-future mindset. Lin’s playing time could be a casualty:

Clarkson had his first career start Friday and discussed his takeaways, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "I did a better job of controlling (the pace) today. Now I've just got to work on getting guys in their spots and just getting what we want in the half-court offense."

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

It will be much easier to work on that for Clarkson on the court in actual games than if he is on the bench watching Lin run the offense.

Plus, there is the contract status of Lin. Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times addressed the virtually nonexistent chance that the Lakers will actually bring Lin back next season:

Only if the Lakers completely strike out in free agency. And even then … probably not.

Lin has failed to nail down a starting spot twice this season. Nash got it when exhibition season began. Then Nash fell apart, Lin was named the starter, and Ronnie Price took it from him 20 games into the season.

Lin is a good athlete but streaky beyond belief. And his defense? Please.

It may have seemed surprising to many when Lin did not play in Friday’s loss to the Spurs, but the reasoning becomes a bit clearer when it is spelled out on paper. Lin is not going to be back next season for the Lakers, and there is a group of players who could be who will be given the chance to prove their worthiness moving ahead.

The nature of a rebuilding project is veterans moving aside for youngsters as teams build toward the future without much regard for the record in the current season.

Plus, there is the cloud hovering over Los Angeles’ every move this season that no team official will likely ever talk about. The only way the Lakers get to keep their first-round pick in this season’s upcoming NBA draft is if it is in the top five once the Ping-Pong balls stop bouncing.

The 12-32 record is certainly a good place to start if we are talking landing a favorable draft spot, and now that Bryant is no longer in the lineup, it appears as if the Lakers could be in for even more losses in the immediate future. The only chance the team would have at more wins is with a heroic effort from an unexpected source, which is exactly what Lin was for the Knicks.

This is not to suggest that the Lakers will openly tank to get that top-five pick, but it is actually better for the overall rebuilding efforts if they lose every single game the rest of the year. 

Why risk coming away with meaningless wins and ruining the draft pick with the return of yet another magical dose of Linsanity that we saw a few years ago in New York?

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