The Los Angeles Lakers have been a bit of a surprise this season. Their motley crew of players, minus Kobe Bryant, had surprised many by flirting with the .500 line since the beginning of the campaign, jumping above and falling below the break even point several times. Their bench was, and still is, the most productive in the league, with surprise package Xavier Henry leading the way off the pine on a nightly basis. Kobe Bryant has since returned from injury and it has taken some figuring out to reintegrate him back into the starting lineup. To add to this difficulty, all three of the Lakers’ recognized point guards have gone down with injury, leaving Bryant to deputize at this position for potentially up to six weeks.
First of all this isn’t all bad news. Kobe is one of the best players of all time with an insane basketball IQ. To think he doesn’t have the ball control and vision necessary to fill in respectably is foolish. As well all know however, Bryant is very much a shoot-first kind of player, which on occasion has been to the detriment of his team. But for stretches last season before injury, Bryant was averaging up to 10 assists a night, a respectable number. Although that number fell to six assists a game for the entirety of last season, that matched a career high, putting some dispute to the notion that Kobe preferred to do everything himself. So in actual fact, this may not be the personification of the Lakers’ current misery that some believe it will be. What is actually worse about this situation is the fact that Steve Blake has been lost for roughly two months with damage to a ligament in his right elbow. Blake was having a great season–9.8 points and a career best 7.7 assists per contest. With Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash also lost to the treatment table, Kobe steps into this role almost by default. There is one massive problem Bryant will face on a nightly basis however.
Some of the point guards Bryant will match up against while starting at the one read like this. Russell Westbrook, Ricky Rubio, Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe, Jeff Teague, Kemba Walker and Stephen Curry. Not quite a who’s who of point guards in the NBA, but every single one of those mentioned above are either excellent offensive threats or cunning defenders. Some are both. The worrying thing for the Lakers is that Bryant will not be able to keep up with them for the entire contest, night after night. At 35 he is not as mobile as he was even five years ago. Throw in the fact he is only working his way back to game sharpness after eight months out with a torn Achilles tendon, and that is a recipe for disaster. Of course the counter argument here is that if starting point guard Steve Nash were available, he would have similar struggles, and this is true. But it is not an ideal situation for Bryant in particular when you take into account where he is at in his career at this moment.
Bringing in a short term replacement seems a strong possibility. The name Kyle Lowry has been touted a lot in recent days, but the Lakers do not have the relevant pieces to make any sort of trade work. As it is they are working with slim pickings on a nightly basis. Chris Duhon might make sense, he is a free agent and has played for the Lakers before. It would be a short term fix to what could fast become a serious problem. The Western Conference is loaded with talent and these next two months will be crucial in trying to put together a playoff push for the organisation. One idea that has not been mooted at all, and which you may be seeing here for the first time, is the possibility of bringing in one Gilbert Arenas. Yes things may be bad if you seriously need to look at whether to bring in one of the most overpaid players of all time, but why not? He obviously would be nowhere near All-Star form, but if he is only needed as a stop gap, he wouldn’t need to be. Only recently he has come out and said he is trying to get back into the league, surely bringing him in for a workout couldn’t hurt? Most other teams would steer well clear not only because of what physical shape he may be in, but also the baggage his brings with him. He is a dangerous force to have in a locker room and could easily disrupt and hurt team identity and chemistry. The Lakers don’t really have either of those things though, as mentioned they are a rag-tag bunch of individuals thrown together. Arenas could prove to be a shrewd choice and the spark they need.
However these next few weeks pan out, it will be interesting to see how Kobe Bryant plays as a point guard initially. He will struggle, but no matter where you put him on the court he will struggle given his recent injury. In actual fact, if he passed more and shot less, it could really help the team as players like Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry have been making shots at a nice rate. Snagging a free agent also makes sense, and if they do go down that route, it is worth looking at Gilbert Arenas. With this team seemingly wandering aimlessly from game to game, it couldn’t hurt that much, could it?