The Los Angeles Lakers, who sit at a decent 10-9 through their first 19 games of the 2013-14 NBA season, will take the floor at the Staples Center on Sunday night to take on the Toronto Raptors. The banners will still be in the rafters, head coach Mike D’Antoni will still have his mustache, and Nick Young will still be the “Swaggiest” of Ps.
However, the Lakers will have something with them that they haven’t all season, home or on the road: Kobe Bryant.
After months of tireless but necessary speculation about the return of the “Black Mamba,” Bryant is scheduled to make his return from an Achilles injury that he suffered this past April against Toronto. It’s not as high-profile as a Christmas Day return, the day I thought that he’d be back, but it is a home game and the Raptors are, in fact the team that Kobe dropped 81 points on back in January 2006, so there is that.
If you’re expecting D’Antoni to immediately jump on the shoulders on his work-horse in Bryant and see where that takes him and this team, though, you’d be sorely mistaken. The Lakers’ head coach has already said, in a report from ESPN L.A., that he plans to limit Kobe’s minutes on Sunday and says that he’s be “surprised” if Bryant’s playing time ended up being 30 minutes or more.
Though this Lakers team, which honestly hasn’t been as impressive as their record might suggest, desperately needs the return of their superstar, D’Antoni and the organization are making the smart decision here. There’s no doubt it would be rectifying and heroic to see Kobe come out in his return to action, play 40 minutes and score 50 points. However, this is still a 35-year-old man with 17 years of NBA-mileage on his legs coming off of a serious lower-body injury that we’re talking about. You want him to be available beyond this point, which is what limiting his minutes will ensure.
I fully expect D’Antoni to stand by his word, but it’ll be interesting to see what would happen if this game is close down the stretch. Say there are about five minutes remaining, Kobe has played 29 minutes already, and the score is knotted. It might be the smart move, but I’d be willing to bet that Bryant, whether by D’Antoni’s wishes or in defiance of his minutes-limit, wouldn’t be coming out of that game.