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For Kobe Bryant and Lakers, NBA lockout could be good, or very bad

A somewhat reduced schedule this season might benefit an aging team and its aging star. But if lockout drags on and the schedule is severely truncated, the physical toll could prove too big a handicap.

October 11, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan
  • A little time off could prove beneficial for Lakers guards Kobe Bryant, left, and Derek Fisher.
A little time off could prove beneficial for Lakers guards Kobe Bryant,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The inevitable finally arrived, and it was bad for basketball fans, even worse for the NBA and atrocious news for the Lakers.

Or was it?

The last we saw of the ex-defending champs, they were getting pummeled in Dallas while Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom committed stupid flagrant fouls. Phil Jackson looked at the devastation in front of him, pulled his cowboy hat low over his eyes, and slowly turned his horse toward Montana.

The Lakers might be itching for the NBA lockout to end so they can prove themselves, but that's a cliche better reserved for the Miami Heat, who actually made the Finals and own a stunningly young nucleus of players.

The Lakers aren't young. They're old. Very.

On Monday the first two weeks of the season were canceled, and more games could be killed soon, making this an abbreviated season at best.

A shorter season might actually help the Lakers. Why wouldn't they want it for Derek Fisher (37 years old), Kobe Bryant (33), Pau Gasol (31), Steve Blake (31), Matt Barnes (31) and Luke Walton (31)?

Oh, and Odom will be 32 in a few weeks, followed a week later by Metta World Peace's first birthday after the first 31 were celebrated by Ron Artest.

Rest during the lockout should be embraced by the Lakers the same way dancing lessons should be bought in bulk by World Peace, who somehow fared worse on "Dancing With the Stars" than his team had on the basketball stage a few months earlier.

Regardless, there's a slim line between a shortened season and an uncomfortably truncated one. The Lakers don't want the lockout to drag on too long.

The last NBA labor dispute was 13 years ago, and after it ended, players and owners emerged from the smoldering wreckage to start the season a few days into February 1999. The Lakers played 50 games in 89 days, including six in a particularly grueling eight-day span, the type of schedule that wouldn't do any favors these days for Bryant's achy right knee.

NBA teams typically don't play more than two games in two nights, but that probably would change with a severely condensed schedule if the lockout skulks into early 2012.

The Lakers had three back-to-back-to-back situations on the reduced 1998-99 schedule, including road games on three consecutive nights in Seattle, Denver and Vancouver.

Those were rough months for the Lakers, who went 31-19 in the regular season, blew through three coaches (Del Harris, Bill Bertka and Kurt Rambis) and got swept by San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals.

Fisher was on that team, but he's a little too busy to reminisce. Thankfully, Robert Horry, a key player for Lakers championship teams in 2000, '01 and '02, has plenty of time to talk about '98-99.

"It cut my career by a year," said Horry, 41, who last played in the NBA in 2008. "Those times where we played three games in a row, your knees hurt so bad you walked around like you were on hot coals. And you were so tired from all the traveling, you'd walk right into walls at the team hotel. It was murder on our bodies. It wiped me out."

If a new labor deal is struck, it will take about a month until the games begin. So if something's done by early November, the Lakers would begin playing in December, which wouldn't be bad for them.

They'll have gained an extra month of rest and their schedule won't be overly condensed, allowing them enough practice time between games to absorb Coach Mike Brown's new system.

But if there's no labor deal until January and the games begin in February, it'll be a sprint to the end, just like the last lockout season. Bryant sat out almost every practice last season to rest his knee, and the Lakers would again have to monitor his practice participation as the rest of the team tries to perfect new schemes on offense and defense while speeding through an abbreviated schedule.

There are other problems, regardless of when the games start.

Lakers owner Jerry Buss desperately wants a season. He's one of only eight owners who, according to the NBA, did not suffer financial losses last season, and he knows the championship window for his current roster is two or three more years . . . if that.

Bynum might have already played his last game for the Lakers if this season gets obliterated. The team holds a $16-million option for 2012-13, and that sounds pretty expensive right about now.

Bryant and Gasol each has two years left on his contract after this season. Odom has only one.

The Lakers still have some time to recline during the lockout, but not much. The last thing they want is a season starting in February . . . or, gulp, no season at all.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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