Kobe Bryant is used to playing heavy minutes, logging an average of 39.3 a game over the last six seasons, but he won't be anywhere near that playing time to start the season if Lakers Coach Phil Jackson gets his way.
Bryant's minutes will be monitored closely at first, yet another sign he hasn't fully recovered from off-season knee surgery in July.
"I don't anticipate he's going to be playing heavy-minute games to start the season," Jackson said Wednesday. "We'll have to find a pattern out there so he has the greatest influence in the amount of minutes he can [play]."
Jackson did not specify how many minutes Bryant would play when the regular season begins Tuesday against Houston. Bryant averaged 38.8 minutes a game last season.
He is shooting a woeful 27.3% and averaging 11 points and 19.5 minutes in six exhibition games. Bryant will probably sit out Thursday's game against Golden State but will appear in the Lakers' exhibition finale Friday against the Warriors, Jackson said.
Jackson didn't seem worried by Bryant's lack of outside touch so far (18-for-66 shooting).
"I'm not that concerned about his shot as I am just about having an overall ability to play with the kind of energy he wants to play with," Jackson said. "His shot will come as soon as that happens. He's the best caretaker I've ever seen of his own physique."
Bryant did not talk to reporters after taking part in Wednesday's practice, but Pau Gasol will step in and fill the scoring void, right?
"I don't know if he'll be ready to do that at the start of the season," Jackson said. "I think that he's kind of easing himself into this year. I haven't seen that spark. He's not quite as efficient. Pau's a 55%, 54% shooter and he hasn't been at those numbers yet."
Gasol did not play organized basketball over the summer for the first time since 2005. He is shooting only 45.5% and averaging 16.8 points in exhibition play.
The Lakers must wait until late November for Andrew Bynum to return, and it's a little less clear when Bryant will get back his full range of skills, but there's one thing helping them early in the season — an easy schedule.
Their opponents from next Tuesday through mid-December were mainly NBA peons last season, with the Lakers scheduled to play two games against Golden State (26-56 last season), two against Minnesota (15-67), two against Washington (26-56), two against Sacramento (25-57) and two against Indiana (32-50).
Of the Lakers' first 28 games, 20 are against non-playoff teams from a year ago. No Miami, no Boston, no Orlando, no Dallas, no Oklahoma City.
There's a road game at Denver, a road game at Utah, and … and … a road game at Milwaukee?
At any rate, they don't feel the need to rush anybody back, although Sasha Vujacic might return to game action Thursday after sustaining a concussion last week, and Luke Walton might also play Thursday after sitting out the last two weeks because of a strained hamstring.
Rookie Derrick Caracter (back spasms) did not practice Wednesday and might not play Thursday.
Artest on the mark
The top three-point shooter among Lakers regulars is … Ron Artest?
Indeed, he has made eight of 19 from beyond the arc (42.1%) in exhibition play, which puts him ahead of Bryant (three for 20), Steve Blake (four for 14), Lamar Odom (two for 11), Derek Fisher (one for five) and Matt Barnes (two for 12).
Jackson couldn't help himself when asked why Artest was on the mark, saying it was partly because of "the cement shoes he's not wearing."
Jackson often criticized Artest's choice of footwear last season, once calling his hi-tops "Frankenstein" shoes.
Artest is shooting 47.2% overall and averaging 10.8 points in exhibition play. He is a career 34.4% shooter from three-point range.
"He knows when shots are coming and he knows how to anticipate it," Jackson said. "It looks like he's got live feet and he's ready to step into shots. He's not hesitating."