Lakers Bryant reacts after hitting a three-point shot against the 76ers during their NBA game in Philadelphia

Is the Lakers biggest problem really Kobe Bryant? No.


While Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were out, Kobe Bryant has carried the Lakers. He is leading the league with 29.5 points per game, scoring more points per game than he has since before Pau Gasol arrived as a Laker. Back when Kobe had to carry Kwame Brown and Smush Parker (remember they both started).

But the Lakers have struggled to a 12-14 record — and that is after a three game win streak.

It has led some people to say, “Kobe Bryant is shooting too much.” He is back to being a ball hog and that is what is holding the Lakers back.

I think those people are wrong — Kobe is playing as many minutes but taking fewer shots per game than either of the Lakers most recent title years. With Nash out, the playmaking has to fall to him because you can’t let Chris Duhon do it. But that is different than being an inefficient gunner.

Still you hear it — “Kobe is shooting too much.” And it’s not just fans. This is an assistant coach from another team, speaking to Chris Broussard if ESPN (the story is behind their pay wall).

“Absolutely, Kobe’s shooting too much. When we played them, we told our guys, ‘Look, we don’t necessarily want Kobe going for 50. I mean, we’re going to guard him. But we’re not going to double him, and we’re not going to try to get the ball out of his hands.’ Our main concerns were not to let [Antawn] Jamison hit a bunch of 3s and not to let Dwight [Howard] go crazy down low. There’s no question they would be a better team if Kobe shot less. Why do you think [Pau] Gasol struggles? He’s going to struggle in any offense where he doesn’t touch it.

“[At] the end of the day, it has nothing to do with [Mike] D’Antoni and his system. It’s all about what Kobe will allow to happen. When you play the Lakers, it’s like they don’t have a system. It’s whatever Kobe chooses it to be. If he wants to take all the shots, he’ll do that. He’ll pacify his teammates early in the game, but then he’ll throw up a heat check and if he’s got it going, nobody else touches the ball.

Thing is, who else on that roster (with Nash out) do you want to handle the ball? Darius Morris?

I think this scout hits the nail more on the head.

“Watching the Lakers play the Knicks this year was hard to watch because the other Lakers were just so bad. It was like Kobe was trying to do all he could just to keep that game close. And hey, if Dwight’s not going to try his butt off and if other guys aren’t going to try their butts off, then I’m going to give the ball to the guy that’s going to go for it, and that’s Kobe. I don’t think it’s that Kobe doesn’t trust his teammates; it’s just that he trusts himself more. A questionable shot by him still might be better than a good look for one of those other guys.

That has always been Kobe — he trusts himself to make plays more than he trusts anyone. If other guys are not knocking down shots early he will do it. The only question was always was he hitting shots and efficient or was he a gunner? This season has been his most efficient in a long, long time.

But it is no different than Kobe from any of the Lakers title years, particularly the most recent. He is who he is.

Let’s see what Kobe and the Lakers look like with Steve Nash in the lineup, then we can discuss what needs to change. But through it all, Kobe is not.

Report: David Lee, Tyler Zeller in line to start for Celtics; Jared Sullinger, Jonas Jerebko out of rotation

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 08: David Lee of Boston Celtics attacks during the friendlies of the NBA Global Games 2015 basketball match between Real Madrid and Boston Celtics at Barclaycard Center on October 8, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Brad Stevens has a big challenge this year – sorting the Celtics’ deep roster of similarly able players.

It seems that process is shaking out at power forward and center.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

it appears Boston’s first four bigs will be starters David Lee and Tyler Zeller, with Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk off the bench.

That leaves Jonas Jerebko and Jared Sullinger, potentially on the outside looking in as far as the regular rotation is concerned.

Lee is the best passer of the bunch, which could partially explain why he’s starting. Boston’s most likely starting point guard, Marcus Smart, is still growing into the role of the lead ball-handler at the NBA level. Lee and presumptive starting shooting guard Avery Bradley can take some pressure off him.

Olynyk can space the floor for Isaiah Thomas-Johnson pick-and-rolls with the reserves and run pick-and-pops with Thomas himself.

I’m a little surprised Zeller is starting over Johnson, though. The Celtics just signed Johnson to a $12 million salary, and I thought they’d rely on his defense to set a tone early. Like Johnson, Zeller is a quality pick-and-roll finisher who can thrive with Thomas.

This is particularly bad news for Sullinger, who – barring a surprising contract extension – is entering a contract year. It seems those reports of offseason conditioning haven’t yet paid off. Jerebko’s deal also isn’t guaranteed beyond this season, but at least he has already gotten his mid-sized payday. Sullinger is still on his rookie-scale contract.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.