It’s pretty obvious Kobe Bryant’s knee is still an issue.
Him sitting out preseason games and saying it was 60 percent at the start of camp might have been your first clue (when Kobe admits he’s injured, it’s serious).
Then there’s his shot — Kobe’s shot starts with his legs. (To you kids at home, that is proper form, everything starts from a strong, balanced base.) When his shot is off it is usually when he is not getting good elevation to shoot.
In the preseason he shot 28 percent overall, 17 percent from three. In the Lakers final preseason game he was 6-19 from the field, 4 of 14 from beyond 16 feet and 2-9 from three (and when he is shooting a lot of threes it means he’s settling, not attacking). Not good (but he had a lot of games last season that looked like that).
He played 34 minutes on the knee in that game. When asked how it felt the next day, Kobe was in midseason form with “It’s good” as his only answer to the Los Angeles Times and others.
He told Dan Patrick on his radio show today that he was close to being 100 percent — and that might be the first time he felt that way “since he had facial hair.”
It’s hard to take Kobe at his word with injuries since he treats them like the Black Knight from Monty Python. But the Lakers need Kobe right, both during the season to get the seed they want and, more importantly, in the playoffs. Lakers can get by until Thanksgiving — frankly until Christmas or longer — without Andrew Bynum. They are used to playing without him, they get points inside the paint without him from Pau Gasol. They can’t win a title without Bynum, but for the regular season they are just fine.
Kobe is a different story. He is the first option in the offense, the threat as the clock winds down.
There are a million variations of the triangle offense, and the Lakers do plenty of freelancing in it, but the basic idea is to keep spacing and movement balanced. Why it works so well is Kobe — you can’t just single cover him. You have to unbalance your defense to stop him, or he will go 81 on you. He might anyway. But once you unbalance yourself the other Lakers can make you pay.
If you can single-cover Kobe, if he is not right, then the Lakers are much easier to defend.
When will Kobe be right? Hard to say, because Kobe will keep walking out on the court, Phil Jackson will keep playing him 35 minutes a night and nobody else will talk about it.
Fortunately for them, the Lakers have a soft start to the season — 20 of the first 28 are against non-playoff teams from last season. It really isn’t until Christmas and the following six weeks or so when the schedule for them is tough. Kobe should be right by then (if not, the Lakers problems are far more serious).
For now, it’s just Kobe being Kobe. Injured or not.