Better get used to it. As Lakers news goes from bad to worse, he’s their only hope to salvage something from disaster.
The sudden loss of Steve Blake, who will be out for six weeks or more after suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, leaves the reeling Lakers with no point guards. Steve Nash’s bad back remains in a delicate state, and Jordan Farmar is still a couple of weeks away after tearing his left hamstring.
So that leaves Kobe.
It’s not the best of circumstances for the Lakers, who begin a four-game road trip Friday night in Oklahoma City, but patchwork lineups sometimes become the rule in the NBA.
Coach Mike D’Antoni has already said that Bryant will play the point with Jodi Meeks and that Xavier Henry will come off the bench. But it leaves the Lakers woefully short, at least in terms of backcourt depth.
General manager Mitch Kupchak said he may look to sign a player, but it’s unlikely any possible roster additions would play ahead of his current group. And he certainly won’t find a player who could step in at point guard.
It’s not the best situation, but Bryant, whose return to the team is barely two games old, is capable of running the offense. In his season debut last Sunday against Toronto, he frequently brought the ball up the floor and finished with four assists in 28 minutes. On Tuesday, he had three in 29 minutes against Phoenix.
As a facilitator, Bryant can be surprisingly effective, drawing double-teams and dishing the ball to an open teammate. He seems perfectly willing to handle that role as he finds a rhythm with his shot.
But can he play more than 29 minutes a game? D’Antoni previously said he wanted to keep Bryant in the 20s, at least until he gets his legs under him. Now, Bryant may have to push himself to play between 32 and 36 minutes a night, not an easy task for a 35-year-old coming back after an eight-month layoff from a torn Achilles tendon.
There will be no easy games. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook is one of the fastest point guards in the league, a player who likes to penetrate and force the action. He plays a physical game, too, and will test Bryant’s quickness and defense.
Any notion that Bryant could be eased back slowly is gone. There’s no time for that. But he’s always been the type of competitor who works hard to surpass expectations.
So here’s his opportunity.
Blake reportedly suffered the injury Nov. 24 in a game at Sacramento, meaning he played two games with a torn ligament. Hearing that, Bryant called Blake “tough,” a word that is often used to describe Bryant himself.
To get through this latest episode, both will need to be tough. And so will the Lakers.