Kobe Bryant's Return Exposes Irony of His Absence for LA Lakers

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IFebruary 24, 2010

BOSTON - JANUARY 31:  Kobe Bryant  #24 the Los Angeles Lakers gestures against the Boston Celtics to a loose ball in the second half at the TD Garden on January 31, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  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 Jim Rogash /Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

I'm sure fans of the Los Angeles Lakers were thrilled by Kobe Bryant's successful return to the lineup on Tuesday night, and were elated by his late game heroics, but the performance of his supporting cast had to be a disappointment.

Therein lies the paradox which surrounds Bryant and his Laker team. The win over the Memphis Grizzlies was great, but the failure of his teammates to display the aggressiveness shown in his absence is puzzling.

It's a disturbing anomaly for a team which played a five-game span defined by rhythm and precision, only to usher in Bryant's return with a game marred by soft defense, confusion on offense, and a feeling of ineptitude.

Things started off well for the Lakers, but in the second quarter they allowed the Grizzlies to draw even, and eventually take a lead they would not surrender until Bryant's shot with 4.3 seconds remaining.

Fans may feel cheated because these were the games they were used to with Bryant in the lineup, but in his absence the Lakers had won every game, save one by double digits.

Bryant was his usual brilliant self, and contrary to popular opinion, he scored his 32 points in the flow of the offense, and he did it in an efficient manner, going 13-19 from the field.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

But what about his teammates? Pau Gasol did his part by contributing 22 points and 13 rebounds, but his play lacked the tenacity and intensity which had been prevalent the past two weeks.

I'm not sure if Lamar Odom and Ron Artest made the trip, because there were players on the court wearing jerseys with those names, but they didn't come close to resembling the Artest and Odom of the recent past.

The player disguised as Odom scored five points and a measly three rebounds, while the player masquerading as Artest had an even worse outing, going 1-9 from the field with three points and seven rebounds.

So what happened to the Laker brilliance of the past 18 days sans Bryant? Was it a sign of what type of team the Lakers can be without Bryant, or were they merely adjusting to his return?

Even though his detractors would say otherwise, the blame for this performance can't be laid at the feet of Bryant, and if it wasn't for his defense and ability to take over the game, the Lakers very well may have lost.

He scored the last nine points for Los Angeles, and with the help of a couple of missed free throws from O.J. Mayo, Bryant was able to rescue his team from the throes of a certain defeat.

That doesn't help quell the clamoring from various people who will point to this game as an example of the Lakers' ability to adapt to their scheme more efficiently without Bryant, but that's only half true.

Bryant will dominate the ball when he is in the game, and in some cases his instincts tend to draw him away from the confines of the current scheme, and adjust in the manner he best sees fit.

This doesn't always work for the Lakers because Bryant's free-wheeling tendencies sometimes leave his teammates out of position on both ends of the court and they lack the natural instincts to recover.

This was illustrated by a gambling Bryant, whose over-aggressiveness on the defensive end led to a glut of easy baskets by mostly Mayo, Rudy Gay, and Zach Randolph.

Conversely, it was also Bryant's gambling style which enabled the Lakers to trim the deficit, and if it hadn't been for a couple of crucial turnovers caused by Bryant, the game could have swung the other way.

So the Lakers find themselves in a quandary, seemingly trapped by the talent and will of their best player, while regressing in the face of his return to their previous state.

The obvious answer lies in the hearts of the various Lakers who surround Bryant and their willingness to be more than spectators on their long and perilous road to a repeat.

If they are to attain their glory of 2009, then it will take a total team effort by all concerned parties, but it doesn't hurt to have a player like Bryant in the game when the contests become tight. It is what he is known for.

But a time will come when Bryant is not able to save the Lakers with one of his patented clutch moments, and when that happens, which Laker will step up to the plate in his stead?


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.