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With Kobe’s return on horizon, so is shift in Lakers’ identity

Nov 18, 2013, 10:35 AM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant is back practicing with the Lakers (as of this past weekend), creating a lot of buzz around the team. However that doesn’t mean his return to the court is imminent. Kobe said previously it likely would be two to three weeks after he returned to practice that he could play again, but around the Lakers caution and vague timetables remain the order of the day.

“He’s a presence, no doubt, and we need that presence, especially at the end of games,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Sunday. “But we’ve got games to win and there’s going to be a bunch of them before he comes back. “

Still, his return begs another question:

What will be the Lakers’ identity when he returns?

They are just starting to find something resembling an identity now. They are up-tempo (fourth fastest in NBA) with solid shooters running to the arc. They move the ball well and defend better than people think (17th in the NBA). They are playing a D’Antoni style.

But D’Antoni understands that changes when Kobe gets back on the court

“The identity (now) is going to be we have to play full out for 48, and then Kobe comes back and the identity changes, so we’re OK,” D’Antoni said. “We just need to win as many as we can, get as good as we can, and then try to get some guys back that causes the identity changes a little bit….

“I just hope our identity will be a good team.”

To quote Andy Dufresne: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” Thing is, Dufresne also had a plan of action to make the hope a reality. We’ll see if D’Antoni and the Lakers have that kind of plan.

Kobe — even a 35-year-old Kobe coming off an Achilles tendon surgery — should help a mediocre offense (25th in the NBA), in part because they don’t get to the free-throw line as much. The Lakers offense doesn’t have a focal point, something that hurts them in tight contests. Kobe brings that.

But right now the ball moves. You could see against the sad Pistons’ defense Sunday — there is something forming there. The question is: Can that seed take root when the force of nature that is Kobe Bryant returns? Or will it get blown away?

Put another way, will the Lakers have to adjust their identity upon his return?

“We don’t have to,” said Wesley Johnson. “I think he’s a very intelligent player and he’ll already know how to fit in, and then with him, he’s just going to play right with us. It’s going to be good, this whole week of practice we’ll see what’s going to happen, but we’re improving and ready to welcome him back with open arms.”

There’s a sense around the Lakers that if they can stay around .500 (they are 5-7 right now) until they get Kobe back (and hopefully Steve Nash) then everything will work itself out.

I’m skeptical it’s that simple. You are introducing a new dynamic to the team and one that doesn’t necessarily fit with the running style seen so far. We have seen the scenario of a ball-dominating player returning from injury to a D’Antoni team before. Remember Carmelo Anthony returning to the “Linsanity” Knicks? This is a different situation — these Lakers aren’t playing as well as those Knicks and Kobe is a more versatile player than ‘Melo — but you wonder if the same kind of difficult adjustment period is ahead of the Lakers.

That’s not how the Lakers see it at all. They just want Kobe back, the sooner the better.

“All I did was watch him growing up,” Nick Young said. “Now I’m going to try to play my role as best I can, I know he’s going to need me….

“We just deal with (the changes) when it happens. I don’t know, I haven’t played with him, but I know it’s going to be fun to see.”

That it is. That it is.

  1. babsports - Nov 18, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    I’d like to see Nash retire at the All-Star game. Blake is better for the Lakers than Nash at this point.

  2. valeb2012 - Nov 18, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    What are you, insane? Of course the Lakers are going to be a better team with Kobe. You don’t have to be a lover or hater. He has a higher contribution to wins than anyone on the Lakers. Did you not watch him last year? When he had to be, he dished out 10 assists a bunch of times. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were issues last year, as was Gasol and Blake injuries. Last year Kobe was the best team Kobe I’ve seen in a decade. Also the heart and soul of the team past year.

  3. MLBlogsbig3bosox - Nov 18, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    Man I love watching Kobe play but I wish he takes much more time to come back.. These Lakers plan on reloading this summer but history says that the franchise players usually come from the Draft and this year there’s a great chance for them to get that star so I hope they lose as much as possible for a greater good.

    • stayhigh_247 - Nov 18, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      Rebuilding through the draft is the only way to get back on top, but i’m not down with losing a bunch of games in hope of getting a high draft pick. I’d rather see them move Pau for some picks ( I am a Pau fan btw) but that is better than tanking on purpose.

      • mackcarrington - Nov 18, 2013 at 8:48 PM

        If the draft was the “only” way to the top, why did it take the Clippers 30 years to finally become relevant?
        Yes, Blake was a draft pick, but Chris Paul was a free agent.
        Pau Gasol was a free agent. Shaq was a free agent to the Lakers. So was Robert Horry and Rick Fox.
        The Lakers won a lot of rings with very few top draft picks. Garnet and Allen helped the Celtics and they were free agents. What top draft picks did the Heat have to get them back to back rings?
        Come on man!!!!

      • mackcarrington - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:57 PM

        I erred in saying that Gasol and Paul were free agents, but you get my point.

    • Anoesis - Nov 18, 2013 at 9:00 PM

      The only big-time players the Lakers have gotten through the draft in the last 30+ years have been Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

      Some good role players have come through the draft, like AC Green, Vlade Divac, Eddie Jones, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar.

      The vast majority of Laker legends have come via trade and free agency. When you win a lot you don’t pick very high.

      Footnote: I wish they’d kept their ’09 draft pick Patrick Beverley.

      • MLBlogsbig3bosox - Nov 19, 2013 at 12:01 PM

        What about Jerry West? Elgin Baylor? But yeah I get your point.. Still most of those acquisitions happened with a draft picked star around except for Shaquille’s.

  4. 00maltliquor - Nov 18, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    I’m excited!

    I do hope he takes as much time as he needs to make 110% sure he’s fully healthy. No need to rush and get a reoccuring injury. I love this years Laker team.

    • 22yearsagotoday - Nov 18, 2013 at 8:03 PM

      Imagine a Kobe for Carmelo trade? I can’t!

  5. thedano - Nov 18, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    Actually stayhigh_247, building through the draft IS NOT the only way to get on top. Ask the Miami Heat. Ask the Boston Celtics. Ask the Lakers who won back to back titles not that long ago. The draft is the only way teams in small markets can get on top for a short time frame. The Lakers may not find enough pieces next offseason, but over the next 2 years they can build a title contending team, without major pieces coming through the draft.

    Would I object to getting some high quality draft picks in the mix too? No, of course not. But recently teams that win titles have built those teams through free agency.

  6. billtetley53 - Nov 18, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    What do you really expect to get in return for Gasol? He’s 33 years old and has been declining production wise. The lakers are not getting a high 1st for him, not in this draft anyway. After this year, your 1st round picks have been dealt away for awhile. Here’s hoping Kobe lifts L.A. to the 8th seed and takes the team out of the lottery. They have no tradeable assets that anyone wants, and the young guys coming off their rookie contracts will resign for their big payday. Essentially, L.A. will he like Dallas, having to sign 2nd tier Free agents. No, LeBron isn’t coming, quit being delusional.

    Kobe has hamstrung this franchise.

  7. redbaronx - Nov 18, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    Honestly I think the Lakers are better off trying to play “D’Antoni ball” and making Kobe fit into that, then the whole team fitting into “Kobe ball” (Individual isolations). I like the Lakers running like they are. It’s fun to watch, and it gives them a better chance to win with the talent they have.

    • zerole00 - Nov 18, 2013 at 3:13 PM

      Why would they want to win before a deep draft and with every expectation to “rebuild” within a year or two? They’re not in win now mode, they just don’t have the talent (or injury free roster) for that to be possible. Securing enough wins for a first or second round loss in the playoffs only hurts their long term plans.

      • mackcarrington - Nov 18, 2013 at 8:09 PM

        Their plan is not necessarily to get a high draft pick. The Lakers are counting on getting some high profile free agents.

      • redbaronx - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:39 PM

        @zerole00 – Because the Lakers are not the kind of team to tank. Nor should they. They have the money and ability to bring in Free Agents. So if they win some games this year that keeps them at 35 – 45 wins, that’s OK. The idea for them is to find a new identity.

  8. lakerade - Nov 18, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    If Kobe comes back anytime soon it will be a fast return which likely means a while longer as he plays himself into shape. The easiest way to do that will be to move the ball like they have been, taking opportunities to impose his will within that ball movement. If it’s more the team adjusting to Kobe instead, then hopefully that means Kobe is truly back and looking to show that. I don’t expect Kobe to really increase the FT attempts per game that much, especially initially.

    • asimonetti88 - Nov 18, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      The Lakers need to establish the team in the post if they want to increase their FT attempts.

  9. skids003 - Nov 18, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    Identity? It means they will have to slow down and walk up the court and watch the Great Ego heave up his 30 bricks a game, then blame the rest of them for not getting enough of them rebounds.

    • asimonetti88 - Nov 18, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      I hate to bust up your cute little narrative with facts, but last year with the “Great Ego” they were the fourth best rebounding team while also being above average in assists and shooting percentage.

  10. mackcarrington - Nov 18, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    Yeah, this is going to be so interesting. I wish I could see their practices right now. By the time Kobe starts playing in games the Lakers will have figured out how to play without him. I don’t think Kobe is going to care about “Fitting into the team” or “adjusting to them”. With Kobe it will be business as usual, and then he will probably complain about not having enough talent around him. Privately D’Antoni will start pulling his hair out. Not a “hater”. I’m a Laker fan, so I have an idea how this will go. if it goes any other way I will be pleasantly surprised.

    • antistratfordian - Nov 18, 2013 at 9:43 PM

      I would expect that as well.

      Why would Kobe care about adjusting to his teammates this year when they have little to play for? He didn’t care about that last year when they were seen as contenders, so I doubt he’s going to worry too much about that now. So when he comes back it’s probably going to be the Kobe show, for better or for worse.

  11. billtetley53 - Nov 18, 2013 at 10:08 PM

    mack, all those players happened under different cba’s. Its a different world in the NBA now. Good for them they have cap space. No big names are coming to L.A. for less money.

    • mackcarrington - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:48 PM

      I agree with you that their past rings were under a different contract. But what do you make of what the Heat and the Celtics recently did? And even if the Lakers secured one of the “hotshot” freshman of this years class, they would still need some quality veterans. Everyone can’t get a “Max” contract. The advantage in coming to LA is that they have a chance to make a lot of money off the court.

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