Almost two months into the season, the recurring themes of the 2014-15 Los Angeles Lakers have been Kobe Bryant's fatigued body and tired legs.
On Sunday night, Lakers coach Byron Scott took a massive step forward to finally alleviating the anguish of fans begging for fewer minutes per game for their beloved 36-year-old superstar. In the wake of the loss to the Sacramento Kings that included a 38-minute and nine-turnover performance from Bryant, Scott said he was considering doing "something else."
The coach did not immediately offer what that "something else" was, but when a reporter suggested possibly sitting out the 36-year-old, the coach stopped playing coy.
"The biggest thing is that I got to take the basketball part out of it, to be honest with you, because sometimes I think he (Bryant) does look exhausted," Scott admitted on TWC Sportsnet following the game. "He's trying to do so much."
"Maybe it is a game or two, I don't know yet," Scott made it clear he would probably lose sleep over the decision and knew that he had to take Bryant's input with a grain of salt.
Ultimately, though, Scott would be the guy to tell Bryant to take a seat. After all, one has to believe that is one major reason the Lakers hired this particular coach in the first place.
"Probably don't have much of an option at this point," Bryant said when told Scott was mulling over sitting him for a game. "Just got to look at the body and see how it responds. The amount of works load and stuff like that, it might make sense."
The aging superstar suggested that his body was on the brink, but he also sounded conflicted when asked about his goal of playing all 82 games in the season.
"I take a lot of pride in trying to playing all 82 (games)," Bryant said. "People come and spend their hard earned money to come and watch us play and hope that I'm out there."
Asked about whether he expected to be this fatigued, Bryant added with a frustrated laugh, "I didn't anticipate having to do so much."
Lakers sixth man Nick Young, who would likely take on more of an offensive load if Bryant played fewer minutes or missed a game, offered further insight and even proposed, shockingly, a self-serving solution.
"He (Bryant) didn't come in until an hour before the game because he had to rest and stuff like that. But he still goes out there and tries to give his best," Young said in Sacramento. "Hats off to him for still going out there every night and still trying to do his best."
Said Young, "You got to respect that."
Then, "Swaggy P" offered the solution he had been dreaming up since the day he was born: "Just give me the ball."
Although Young's solution was easy to pass off as locker room banter, his suggestion would be precisely the direction the Lakers expect to go. If Bryant sits, Young and Wayne Ellington are likely to get more shots and minutes.
"I'm always down to take over the load," Young cracked a smile and began rolling in front of the cameras. "Just let me, let Wayne (Ellington) get a couple shots, but majority, just give me the ball."
Young's cockiness in front of microphones and in the locker room matches his confidence on the court. Ideally, the best solution would be to lower Bryant's minutes. An easy way to do that would be to change the rotations slightly. Rather than playing the veteran for the entire first and third quarters, as was the case on Sunday, Scott could take a look at giving Ellington more time. Even if the coach shaves off four minutes per game at the end of the first and third quarters, those minutes would add up.
After 27 games, Bryant is averaging 35.4 minutes per game, which is the most on the Lakers by more than five minutes per game. Even if that number only dropped to 31.4 minutes per game, that would amount to 220 fewer minutes over the remainder of the season. At 31.4 minutes per game, that would save Bryant seven games worth of wear and tear by the end of the year. By employing this sort of long term strategy, Bryant may yet play all 82 games while still preserving his body.
Along with cutting his minutes, Bryant should not be playing on the second night of road back-to-backs. Through 27 games, Bryant is averaging 2.3 miles per game, and 4.6 miles in a quick turnaround with a flight tossed in seems slightly irresponsible on a 36-year-old body coming off a fracture in his knee and a torn Achilles.
On Sunday, Bryant became the first Lakers player to run 60 miles on the court this season. That astounding statistic only further quantifies how hard Bryant has been working for the first third of the season.
Young summed up the sentiment: "We need Kobe out there, and he knows it. But we don't need him to kill his self [sic]."