It shouldn't be surprising, really—this is the guy who's always expected to carry the load. Bryant may possibly be coming back on Friday against the Sacramento Kings, although nobody really knows. It all depends on what happens between now and then, including practices, physical therapy and lots of ice buckets.
Bryant, of course, is attempting to come back from a ruptured Achilles tendon. The injury, which happened back in April, is one of the toughest for an athlete to overcome. It’s not any easier when you’re 35 years old with the wear and tear of 17 seasons in the NBA.
An effective return to action will require the support of surrounding teammates, especially ball-handling guards who can alleviate the pressure on Bryant. Unfortunately, the point guard ranks seem to be dwindling every day.
Consider the following:
Per the official Lakers press release:
Lakers guard Jordan Farmar, who was injured in the first quarter of last night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, had an ultrasound test and was examined this morning by Dr. Luga Podesta. Farmar was diagnosed with a tear of his left hamstring. It is expected that he will be out approximately four weeks.
Farmar, who is back with the Lakers after winning two championships early in his career under Phil Jackson, has been logging almost 19 minutes off the bench through 18 games this season, averaging 9.2 points and 4.4 assists. Mike D’Antoni’s system has been a good fit for the former UCLA standout.
Steve Blake’s been the Lakers’ starting point guard of late, averaging 10 points in 31.1 minutes and, most importantly, 7.7 assists. That is a career high for Blake and speaks well to his ability to distribute the ball and, potentially, take pressure off Bryant.
One little problem: Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times shares the news that Blake’s been dealing with a right elbow injury:
Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News adds that the Lakers will monitor Blake during practice this week:
And then, of course, there’s the evolving story of Steve Nash who’s been struggling with back and nerve root issues. Nash hasn’t played since Nov. 10. He’s determined to return to the court, but at 39, it becomes an increasingly difficult scenario.
So who does Bryant turn to, especially in the short term? Does he return after so many months spent battling his own physical frailties, just to find that even more challenges have been heaped onto his plate? What kind of pressure faces a legendary shooting guard when the point guards are falling by the wayside?
Perhaps the answer will come from another shooting guard.
On Sunday night, with Farmar out and Blake shooting blanks, Xavier Henry was pressed into action as a point guard. Henry was the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft, selected by the Memphis Grizzlies and traded during his rookie season to the New Orleans Hornets. His first few years in the league weren’t particularly impressive. This past summer, he was one of several minimum-salary acquisitions by the Lakers.
This isn't the typical resume of somebody who can prominently feature in the Lakers lineup, but then again, this isn't your typical season.
Through 18 games, Henry is averaging 9.2 points in 19.3 minutes per game, primarily as a 2-guard. That, of course, is Bryant’s natural position. It should also be noted that Henry’s assist average is nearly nil—0.7 to be exact. Still, there he was on Sunday night, running the point and scoring 27 points in the process.
Could Henry be enough of a solution to take the pressure off Bryant once he returns to action? Or will Bryant revert to a role that he’s inhabited so often over the years—taking it upon himself to solve all problems.
The answer is as yet uncertain. Hopefully this Lakers group, with so many new faces, will find a way to help Bryant once he returns. And hopefully, Bryant will let them.