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Kobe Bryant's worth to the team doesn't fit context of regular-season MVP race

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Summoning Kobe Bryant over for a one-on-one conversation, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson sat down with the Lakers' star and went over something three years ago that would help define how Bryant would approach the regular season.

The dialogue entailed Jackson's want for both of them to outline a plan with which they could find the right balance for Bryant to limit his practice time and regular-season playing time. That way Bryant could provide the proper maintenance on an aging body while still providing the irreplaceable skill set on the court. On the surface, it sounds like a weird concept to ponder, considering very few can match Bryant's competitiveness. But the context behind this conversation pointed to an ingredient that could very well determine the number of championship rings Bryant ultimately wears.

At that point, Bryant was just about to enter his 12th season, had experienced frustration over two consecutive first-round losses to Phoenix in 2006 and 2007 and even made prolonged trade demands because the Lakers lacked a championship roster. He had also logged 40 minutes per game for three consecutive seasons. Since that point, Bryant has played under 40 minutes for four consecutive seasons, including 33.39 minutes in the 2010-11 campaign, the lowest since the 2003-04 season. With that decreased playing time, Bryant has also seen a drop in his scoring. He hasn't averaged above 30 points since playing under 40 minutes beginning in the 2007-08 season, including his 25.1-points-per-game average this season, coincidentally his lowest total also since the 2003-04 campaign.

That's why it shouldn't be surprising that Bryant will be passed over next week when the regular-season most valuable player is determined at the end of the season. Bryant ranks sixth in scoring overall, behind Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Miami's LeBron James, Miami's Dwyane Wade, New York's Carmelo Anthony and New York's Amare Stoudemire. Another MVP candidate, Chicago's Derrick Rose, has a team that's played more consistently than the Lakers. And there's another in Orlando's Dwight Howard. The Magic's championship hopes would completely collapse without his presence.

This isn't really an indictment of Bryant, though. He's been playing this season for solely one reason.

"We've had the biggest award that you can get, which is winning a championship," Bryant said at a recent practice. "I think everything after that, if it comes, great, if it doesn't, great.

Interestingly enough, Bryant earned a regular-season MVP in the 2007-08 season, but that fit in with a nice storyline about how he became a better teammate as he worked with the talent around him in the Lakers' return to the NBA Finals. He picked up his fourth All-Star MVP this season, but that award went beyond sending a message to the rest of the league that he's not finished yet. It also came on the heels of the Lakers' three-game losing streak just before the All-Star break and the performance sent a strong message to the rest of his team that he was ready to dial up the intensity, an ingredient that has  helped their 17-4 resurgence since the All-Star break. But Bryant posting the kind of minutes and statistics necessary for a regular-season MVP wouldn't have helped him long-term in the effort to secure his sixth championship.

This isn't making excuses for him. After all, Bryant's chances would've been greater had the Lakers not underachieved at the beginning of the season. But it goes back to the plan Jackson and Bryant talked about in pacing his progression. With a litany of injuries, including a surgically repaired right knee, a sprained left ankle and arthritis in his index finger, Bryant needs to follow that plan even more so that he's at his best for the postseason. Of course, things got more complicated considering his preference for playing through a sprained left ankle that resulted in him going 13 of 36 from the field in the two games after suffering that injury. 

It hasn't been an easy task, with Bryant and Jackson balancing at certain points this season when Bryant  should practice. But Bryant has shown a good record this season in knowing when to dial up the intensity. He largely sat out most practices with the exception of shooting drills and weight training, but the Lakers' embarrassing Christmas Day loss to Miami sparked Bryant to return to practice so the Lakers wouldn't fall further and further into the standings. He has since returned to keeping practice time at a minimum, but lately his on-court aggressiveness has increased. In the last 10 games, Bryant has averaged 27.1 points per game on 43% shooting, a stretch that still ranks fifth overall in scoring but shows that his elevation comes gradually.

"I'm just cranking it up," Bryant said after the Lakers'  112-104 victory March 26 against the Clippers, in which he scored 37 points on 11-of-21 shooting with a team-high six assists. "I'm starting to get into playoff mode, playoff form and being more aggressive."

Bryant followed a similar path last season when he scored at least 30 points in 12 of 13 playoff games after getting his knee drained. Clearly, Bryant's pacing has absolutely nothing to do with taking it easy, but instead is about proper maintenance for the long race ahead. His pacing also has nothing to do with his diminished skill set either. His limited minutes and increased facilitating of the talent around him speak more to working appropriately with the injuries he's handling. That doesn't coincide with the regular-season MVP award because it's after the award is given that Bryant's going to show his full capabilities. But it's safe to say Bryant will respond with the same indifference when the award is handed out as he did as to whether his willingness to help out other All-Stars would come back to bite him.

"I don't give a ...." Bryant said a day after the 2010 All-Star game. "It doesn't matter to me. You can't beat me in June. It doesn't matter. All of the other stuff, it doesn't matter."

-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Warriors guard Monta Ellis tries to strip the ball from Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who is driving for a layup in the first half Wednesday night in Oakland. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press / April 7, 2011.

 
Comments () | Archives (24)

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@LRob

Of course it is mostly based on what I have read since I didn't actually watch either of them play except some highlights on ESPN Classic. I do read a lot about the history of the game and the greats and it is pretty much consensus pick among b-ball historians that Walton was the greatest armature to play the game. He never lost a game in High School and only lost at the end of his senior year. Plus the game he had in the 1972 championship where he was 21 or 22 from the field and the team went 30-0 with an average margin of victory of 30+ points. He won the top college player 3 years in a row as an Academic All-American.

Lew Alcindor was named player of the year twice a year apart. He did win more championships and was mvp of the tournament 3 years in a row. I just think that Walton had a better all around game and a higher bball IQ. Who really knows? Was Ted Williams better than Babe Ruth? I'd take either on my all time fantasy college basketball team.

i expect Koby faction to come out of the wood work and beat their chest while the Bynum faction retreats into the woods and the Pau faction just gawks in awe!

SPH

"I don't give a ...." Bryant said a day after the 2010 All-Star game. "It doesn't matter to me. You can't beat me in June. It doesn't matter. All of the other stuff, it doesn't matter."
Wow! Kobe's drop n' it Old Skool!
You go Mamba - Fight for Your Right! to kick some **s!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBa5qp9sUOY&feature=player_embedded#at=48

Hey we're going to have a chat at 6

kobe will not win the mvp because he is not an mvp. he was in 2008 and should have won when he played with smush/kwame. but now he has an all star team and he still want to play 1 on 5. he has a great power forward in gastong. a dominant center kobe is trying to shut out because he reminds kobe of shaq, and the world game champ lo the6th man of they year. plus he has ron ron who is 1/8 of rodman but a lockdown defender.

Kobe...you can't be me in June = classic!

@NBA4ever,

I didn't see Kareem in college, but I did see Walton and agree he was certainly one of the greatest I ever saw. That Memphis State game was incredible.

I tend to lean toward Kareem because he had won more titles and had the better overall record, plus they outlawed the dunk because him. If Bill did have a better all around game and IQ (both of which I disagree with) he certainly didn’t use it to elevate his team his senior year.

Kareem 3 NCAA titles and overall record 88-2
Walton 2 NCAA titles and overall record 86-4

I don't think it’s a consensus at all about Walton being the greatest. Many say Kareem was...some say Oscar, some Russ. (see link below of poll ESPN did a few years ago).

http://www.uclabruins.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/031308aaa.html

Anyway I was just curious with your rationale. Like you said you can't go wrong either way.

Speaking of the 1973 Memphis State Tigers...the great Larry Finch passed over the weekend...my prayers go out to his family.

George Karl says he prefers Dallas in the 1st round...well there's goes Denver chances of a first rd upset.


http://sports.espn.go.com/dallas/nba/news/story?id=6305580

Yes we would love our team perfect...82-0 in the season...16-0 in the playoffs...But you know the personality of this team...we will get losing streaks like the last 3 games, we will limp in to the playoffs 4-6...we will lose Christmas games...we will lose 'statement games', we will lose to scrub teams...But we will also be in the mix at the end, like the last 3 years...I expect the same this year...That's good enough for me...for you can't always get what you want...What we have, every team in the Association would give their first born for...I'm sure Mitch has decided how much longer this current squad has, and is already thinking of our upgrades or replacements...But on top of the agenda would be, who will coach us if PJ doesn't return...Until we know what kind of team we will have, what kind of offense we will run...speculating on this is premature...we still have business at hand, the 3Peat...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIX0ZDqDljA

Hahaha good one LRob...

Ron Harper said something similar: "The only streak that matters is the one in June"

Hey guys we got a chat running

Jordan endured exactly what bryant is going through. Jordan never slowed down, took breaks and rest for the playoffs. Jordan earned his MVP's in the regular season and post season. So whats the big deal with kobe. Oh yeah, he's unable to meet the drive the jordan had to he's down playing the whole regular season awards. Thats the difference between Jordan and Kobe, Jordan competed no matter what it was.

Dear Ricky Bobby,

U mad?

Not necessarily mad, just annoyed why people continue to compare Kobe to Jordan when kobe takes breaks and Jordan never did. Kobe down plays a lot of things such as league awards because he is passed his prime and can no longer compete against the elite players to win those awards. Such as Lebron, Durant and Rose to name. But Jordan was definitely in a class of his own, even when he was passed his prime he was still able to pull off the unthinkable at age 33-36, by winning 2 MVP, 3 Finals MVP and 3 Titles. Never cut his minutes or saved his body for just the post season.

Being a Laker fan i cant make any excuses for our team slump.The Chicago bulls with Jordan,Pippen and Phil Jacskon never really had a bad slump,I cant remember if they had a 3 game loosing streak much less than a 4 game loosing streak under Phil Jackson,this was unthinkable by Michael Jordan's standards.This present Laker team had many a loosing slump,we even lost to Celtics and Detroit in two Nba finals.Jordan nerver lost in an Nba finals.Yes before Phil became Bulls head coach they lost in the playoff to Detroit,but this change when PJ took the helm.So some Lakers fan who wants to compare anyone with MJ got to be joking,lts like they had never followed the game of basket ball.Yes its good for Lakers to win the finals but dont compare them to the any of the Bulls nba championship teams.

I usually jus sit back and read because I love to read other lakerholics opinions and such but I had to comment on "Ninja" latest comment. If you count our two losses in the finals kobe would be on his 8th ring. He is on track to tie MJ ring count this postseason and have a couple more years to go to get his 7th.

Losing in the finals doesn't prove you're the worst,it proves you outlasted 28 other teams and you was defeated in the last battle. Indiana is having parties because they have reached the postseason,let's not undermine the competition in the NBA. Kobe,fortunately had a great team behind him in his championship years (thanks to the front office). I'm not saying kobe is better than MJ or vice versa,I'm saying that we play for rings not individual awards.

Will you idiots please get off jordan nuts damn!!!!!!! Maybe jordan won all those awards because he didn't have the Kobe's playing, the lebrons,D. Rose, Durant, Carmelo's, in the league during them times. The players today are pretty much unbelieveable and can do pretty much any thing on the basketball court. Yall over look the fact that Jordan kept getting his ass whooped by the pistons and lost to the celtics. Instead yall praise him for scoring 60 plus points in a game where they lost the series to the celtics. Its pretty sad yall over look jordan flaws. Yall all fail to mention how jordan went 5 for 19 against a seattle supersonics team in a close out game of the finals smh or how 14 for 38 against utah with one assist. Let's be real jordan had flaws too, quit overlooking them. Realize jordan wasn't playing against as much young talent as it is today. He came at the right time as you can see he lost to the celtics some will say he beat magic and the lakers when they were on the downside and Kareem was gone. Please recognize the skill set of todays players before yall make assumptions.

@Anthony Lewis

Damn straight! I'm glad someone finally called out the immortality of his Airness. Jordan was awesome, don't get me wrong, but this deity-type worship of him (blown up times ten by ESPN) is ten years past old. And despite nobody wanting to admit it, he DID beat up on a lot of worndown teams/rebuilding teams. He never beat us healthy (91 we were hurt), the Celtics were no where near their 80s counterpart, and so on and so fourth. And as mentioned, he got his @$$ handed to him by everyone in the 80s.

Funny about that scoring 60 and losing the series. If that had been Kobe, we'd never hear the end of it. Same on the 14 for 38 shooting w/ one assist. "Kobe's a ballhog, he's this, he's that..." yadda yadda yadda. Jordan? Swept under the rug as always.

And for whomever that was that mentioned that Jordan never took time off but Kobe has should realize that Kobe has been playing in the NBA since he was 18. That's a lot of mileage when you consider how many times he's went all the way to the Finals. That would beeee...lessee...since their first championship in 2000, he's played to the Finals I think like eight times in ten seasons. Counting the Olympics, he was on a stretch of nonstop basketball for almost five years at one point (my numbers might be a little off but I'm sure not by much).

Excellent comment anthony,Jordan did not have any competition during his run. I wouldnt compare Gary payton,a fat charles barkley,stockton and malone to Wade ,Garnett, Lebron, Carmelo,Pual pierce. After Magic Bird, and Isiah left the was watered down so Ricky Bobby u dont know what the hell u talking about.

hmmmm, I recall Jordan taking a 2 year break...

kobe will never win mvp again because he's arrogant and makes a lot of bad decissions. he's a ballhog!

I think Bryant will be The NO.1 in the Loss Lakers.....Kobe Bryant is legend..Inclue his spirit . I am his super fun. Love LA.Love Kobe!! GO.....


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