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J.R. Smith would help Kobe Bryant

February 15, 2012 |  4:22 pm

J.R. Smith

Underneath Kobe Bryant's snarling on-court persona lies an appreciation for opponents who display the same feistiness. 

Months after the two exchanged elbows, pushes and expletives in the 2009 Western Conference semifinals, Bryant welcomed Ron Artest to the Lakers. Months after former Orlando Magic forward Matt Barnes pretended to inbound a pass toward his face, Bryant's frequent text messages persuadedhim to sign with the Lakers in the 2010 off-season. Four years after former Phoenix forward Raja Bell clotheslined him, Bryant offered to pick him up in his helicopter two summers ago and recruit him to the purple and gold.

OK, so not every player who seems fixated with practically hitting Bryant on the court with a 2-by-4 ends up with the Lakers. Bell ultimately signed with the Utah Jazz. But these very qualities provide the same reasons why J.R. Smith would make a perfect fit for the Lakers. The main reason: It passes Bryant's approval and makes his job easier. 

Who knows whether this will actually happen. The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported Coach Mike Brown talked with Smith about possibly joining the Lakers, but highlighted Smith's Twitter page that listed New York, Chicago, Indiana, Orlando and the Clippers as possible candidates. Bresnahan also noted the Lakers can  offer only  him a portion of the veteran's minimum,  less than $1 million, since they're over the salary cap and spent their entire mini-midlevel exception on Josh McRoberts. 

Though adding Smith to the roster would hardly be as important assecuring Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, it  doesn't reek of desperation either. The Lakers lack someone to back up Bryant at shooting guard on a consistent basis. Steve Blake is more suited to point guard. Andrew Goudelock has shown some spurts. And for unknown reasons, Devin Ebanks played at that position very little despite the front office's  instructing him to prepare for that role.  

Giving Smith that role would realistically relieve Bryant of some of his 38.3 minutes-per-game average, third highest in the NBA. Smith's hard-nosed defense would give the Lakers more backcourt help in defending those pesky quick guards. He'd give Brown another option at small forward, a position facing little success with Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes. And more important, Smith would relieve Bryant of  defensive and ballhandling duties that only add to his fatigue. 

Granted, Smith presents some of the same negative qualities of Barnes and World Peace, such as trigger-happy tendencies and overly aggressive fouls. But in the short term, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The Lakers just better hope the Clippers don't latch onto Smith first.


Free agent profile: J.R. Smith

J.R. Smith talks with Lakers; free agent could fill multiple roles

-- Mark Medina

Photo: J.R. Smith. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

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