World Peace’s Return, Nash’s Status, and Kobe’s Minutes

Darius Soriano —  April 8, 2013

So, just when you thought this season couldn’t have any more twists and turns, I see this on twitter:

Okay, then.

Ron potentially coming back this early is pretty much shocking to me. While he originally tweeted that he’d be back in a little over two weeks, he deleted that tweet only for the team to announce that his recovery timeline was around six weeks. Today marks the 18th 10th day since his surgery and, as reported above, if he doesn’t experience any swelling he could be back in the lineup tomorrow when the Lakers host the Hornets. From now on, I’m calling him Ronstradamus.

Getting Ron back will surely help with the Lakers’ rotations and should allow the team to put better defensive lineups on the floor for longer stretches. Ron, even at less than 100%, is a crafty wing defender and at least has the size to switch on screens and not get buried in the post or be completely overmatched in a matchup. Plus, when Ron and Clark share the wing, the Lakers have a lot of defensive versatility on the floor, allowing  them to mix their matchups in a way that maximizes their effectiveness. I wouldn’t be surprised to see lineups with Kobe, Clark, Ron, Pau, and Howard with the team doing a lot of switching funneling everything to the paint where multiple guys can protect the rim.

The news wasn’t all good from practice, however. Steve Nash continues to struggle with his hamstring and hip issues and missed practice again. As for his status tomorrow, it doesn’t look good:

Nash being out is probably a bigger deal than potentially getting Ron back. Having Ron around to bolster the wing rotation is fantastic and his defensive effort and smarts can only help a team that’s struggled on that end since he went out with his injury. But missing Nash means that Kobe is still likely to play heavy minutes as long as the games are reasonably close (or in some cases unreasonably, since every win matters so much). With Nash out, the only two ball handlers Mike D’Antoni seems to trust are Steve Blake and Kobe. Blake is already starting but it’s unlikely he’s going to be the player who goes really heavy minutes in order to keep Kobe fresh. If anything, it will be the opposite in that Kobe will need to be on the floor for almost the entire game as he’s so important to the overall flow of the offense.

This isn’t just me speculating, either. Mike D’Antoni said so himself today:

“We’re playing a little bit with fire,” D’Antoni said of Bryant, who has played 46 minutes a game the past four games. “We wouldn’t like to but we put ourselves in the position we have to. We’re short-handed right now and we’re playing it very tight. Normally this wouldn’t happen but we put ourselves in a hole and Kobe is our best bet going forward to win games. He said he’s going to retire after a year so we’re going to get our money’s worth for two years. I don’t know what to tell you.”

Would the Lakers’ be better off getting Kobe more rest? Yes and no. No because they’ve not clinched anything and don’t have the luxury of losing games. Do you rest Kobe more now and hope it pays off for a playoffs you’ve not qualified for? A tired Kobe in the post season is a “cross  that bridge when we come to it” situation, only you need to replace “when” with “if”.

That said, there’s a strong case to be made that a tired Kobe isn’t much good to the Lakers in games either. If he’s too tired to make the right defensive rotation or to close out games with the correct play on offense, the team isn’t really getting Kobe Bryant. They’re getting a tired player who’s wearing his jersey. Granted, Kobe can still make plays (like he’s done countless times), but where is the line of diminishing returns? Is it at 40 minutes? 42? 46? It surely shifts depending on opponent and the circumstances of the game up to that point, but no player is able to fully fight through fatigue. Not even the best players in the world.

This is where developing the end of the bench to be more than mere spectators would have been helpful, but that’s a discussion for another day. D’Antoni had to fight for every win he could get all season and that meant approaching games in a way that doesn’t always take the big picture into account. The alignment of short and long term goals was approached through the prism of getting victories, not player development and roster sustainability. Maybe the latter should have been taken into account more and it’s also probably fair to point out that D’Antoni has typically played a shorter rotation so this isn’t anything that’s really new for him. However, this is a complicated situation with too many variables to simply say “he should have done X” and there’s no gray area.

The Lakers are where they are now because they’ve dealt with too much uncertainty — some from their own doing, some from bad luck — and have struggled to get wins in the process of working through it. The odds say they need to win out to get into the playoffs and the players seem to understand that. For what it’s worth, Kobe thinks they can and his approach is pretty simple:

Darius Soriano

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