The Lakers lacked a solid backup behind Kobe Bryant during the 2011-12 season. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The second in a series highlighting the Lakers' biggest off-season needs.
Laker fans rarely grow tired of seeing this loop.
Kobe Bryant lifts the team on his back once again and dominates the scoring column. Even with injuries hobbling his aging body, Bryant keeps fighting. Even if he has to assume heavy minutes, Bryant stays energetic.
Fans marveled at Bryant punching in and out last season and managing to handle that large responsibility. But that effort also reveals what the Lakers sorely lack: a definitive backup shooting guard behind Bryant. That deficiency contributed to Bryant playing 38.5 minutes per game after averaging 33 the previous season. It partly accounted for why he didn't get much rest until he suffered a shin injury that sidelined him for seven games. And it was partly responsible for Coach Mike Brown continuously altering his rotations.
As they enter the 2012-13 season, the Lakers can't afford to follow the same formula. It would put too much strain on Bryant when he's trying to maximize and preserve what he has left toward the end of his playing career. The dynamic would continue setting up a co-dependency on Bryant, while leading the Lakers' star to produce too much at the expense of everyone else. But no matter how determined Bryant is in fighting through fatigue and injury, he's simply making himself too vulnerable by endlessly battling such obstacles.
The Lakers can solve this problem by acquiring a dependable backup shooting guard, or by somehow upgrading from within, or perhaps by doing both. As far as upgrades go, the options might be limited. O.J. Mayo and Courtney Lee could be too expensive. Delonte West and J.R. Smith are effective, but can be unpredictable. As for the Lakers' ability to upgrade from within, the scenarios appear uncertain.
Andrew Goudelock played as Bryant's backup early because of his dependable outside shooting, but the Lakers rookie offered very little else in defense and ball-handling. Will playing in the Las Vegas Summer League and a whole training camp help offset those deficiencies?
The Lakers asked Devin Ebanks to work on his shooting-guard skills last season, but they didn't use him until very late when Bryant sat out because of the shin injury. He showed promise with his minimal mistakes, length and hustle, but Ebanks' impact could only be felt on a short-term basis. Will he build on that body of work, or will defenses quickly figure him out?
Brown sometimes used Steve Blake as the team's backup shooting guard. But the effectiveness of doing so again will hinge on Blake's willingness to take outside shots, and his ability to make them. As he showed last season with his 37.7% shooting percentage, that wasn't always dependable.
Regardless of the Lakers' inconsistencies, they can't afford to lean on that as an excuse in forcing too much out of Bryant. Of course, his production largely dictates the Lakers' success. But leaning on that at the expense of resting him will only sap his energy level, an ingredient that has to remain high once the postseason starts. Of course, this issue becomes easier to solve if the Lakers actually have legitimate options. That way, Brown can give Bryant the rest he needs without worrying about how significantly his absence will hurt.