The Los Angeles Lakers are winning big basketball games, and Kobe Bryant continues to sit on the bench. No one is going to suggest that #24 is no longer needed by the Lakers, but it is intriguing to watch this team play without their longtime star. More players are getting involved, the defense is solid, and the team is playing with confidence. At some point Kobe will return, but is it possible that the Lakers might actually be a better team at this point without him?
Beating good teams
It would be different if the Lakers were somehow sneaking by the worst teams in the NBA. However, the Lakers won their fourth straight game and three of those wins were against Western Conference playoff teams. Perhaps the most important win was the game against the Spurs on April 11 when Andrew Bynum pulled down 30 rebounds. It will be interesting to see if the Lakers can beat the Spurs again on April 17 when San Antonio visits Los Angeles.
Sharing the leadership
Despite some conflict with coach Mike Brown this season, Andrew Bynum has assumed a leadership role in the absence of Kobe Bryant. From an ability standpoint, this is hardly surprising, as the big man has shown this season that he is perhaps the best center in the game. Against the Mavericks on April 15, Bynum scored 23 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. Pau Gasol also had a double-double and Ramon Sessions showed why the Lakers got him at the trade deadline. Of course, Kobe is involved in a coaching role, and right now that may be his best contribution.
Will Kobe fit seamlessly back into the new-look Lakers? This team has enough talent to be a championship contender, but they will need the right flow in order to beat San Antonio, the Clippers or Oklahoma City in a seven-game playoff series. Despite Bryant’s talent and veteran savvy, he may need to play a role where he doesn’t shoot 25-30 times a game. Can the great Kobe Bryant play a complimentary role? We will see. In the meantime, this Lakers team may continue to win without him.