Kobe Bryant Set To Return, How Will the Los Angeles Lakers Respond?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IFebruary 23, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 14:  An injured Kobe Bryant sits on on the bench during the the NBA All-Star Game, part of 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend at Cowboys Stadium on February 14, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

He says his ankle feels fine, his finger feels better, and the back spasms have all but disappeared.  So by all accounts Kobe Bryant is prepared to make his return.

But are his teammates ready for him?

Ready or not, Bryant will make his second-half season debut tonight in Memphis, and the way he and his teammates adjust to his return will go a long way in determining the course of the season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's no secret that the Lakers played well in his absence, going 4-1 with their only loss a one point defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics. The precision they displayed was impeccable.

Los Angeles played so well, in fact, there were scores of people who actually offered the opinion that the Lakers were a better team without Bryant in the fold.

An absurd assumption indeed, but one which contained a hint of truth.

It's true the Lakers were a more cohesive unit in Bryant's wake, but that is the result of various talented players staying within the confines of the triangle offense and trusting in the abilities of teammates.

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Bryant is well-versed in the triangle, but sometimes existed outside of the scheme when he felt it was necessary, and his free-style type of play often left his teammates out of position.

Not entirely a bad thing.

There were numerous instances in which this translated to Laker victories due to Bryant shunning the scripted plays and taking matters into his own hands.

Conversely, this also worked against the Lakers.

In some cases, Bryant assumed too much of the responsibility and found himself pressing or taking bad shots to the detriment of his team.

In order for the Lakers to be successful, some type of medium must be found, where the precision of the Laker offense and the instincts of Bryant can peacefully coexist in the same space.

Bryant is one of the more intelligent players in the NBA, so I expect him to understand this dynamic. Plus, he has the added benefit of observing, from a distance, the confidence of his teammates grow.

Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and especially Ron Artest have found themselves in Bryant's stead, and the lessons they learned in his absence are tangible things they can carry with them as they move forward.

Artest was called on to be the primary defensive threat, and he has performed admirably, as has Gasol, the main focus of the Lakers' offensive scheme since Bryant has been side-lined.

Odom has been the ultimate utility player, providing stiff defense, rebounding, and scoring as needed, as well as being the primary ball-handler when the need presented itself.

The reserves have also responded, particularly Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar. Their play on the perimeter has been critical to Los Angeles maintaining their lead in the Western Conference.

There are things which Bryant brings to the table, however, which none of his teammates can duplicate and were noticeably missing from the Lakers' arsenal.

Bryant's strong perimeter defense has been severely underestimated, and it may have meant the difference in a loss to the Celtics since Ray Allen was the primary cause of the Lakers' demise.

The one point loss also highlighted Kobe's ability as a closer, as the Lakers' looked confused and befuddled when presented with the opportunity to win the game in the closing seconds.

Those are the moments that Bryant lives for, and he has proved that on multiple occasions this season already. That ability often separates the Lakers from opponents who are similarly talented.

As far as talent goes, there are few in the league who can boast of the talent level that the Lakers can—and that's without Bryant. So his return should strengthen the Lakers' bid for a repeat, not hinder it.

In fact, much of the talk centered around the prowess of the Lakers without Bryant may have been done with the hopes that his injuries would extend his absence, because a healthy and rested Bryant spells trouble for the rest of the NBA.