Kobe Bryant has many, many reputations which have been cultivated over the years, spanning the entire spectrum from positive (champion) to negative (ball hog). But, if one were to choose one reputation that Kobe has worked the hardest to maintain, it is that the man refuses to be stopped by any sort of physical malady. Broken finger? No problem. Torn cartilage in the wrist? No big deal. Bone-on-bone knee joints? Nothing an offseason trans-Atlantic flight can't fix. Getting whacked in the nose at an All Star Game? Problem.
Kobe Bryant is unlikely to play in tonight's contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves because Dwyane Wade took exception to something in Sunday's All Star Game and decided to lay the wood on Kobe's nasal from behind after Bryant blew by Wade with a spin move. Ironic, isn't it? After all the terrible injuries, all the ankle sprains, all the torn, broken bits and pieces of Kobe's body which have been left on the side of the road as the man ambles on without missing so much as a lick of time, Kobe Bryant is likely to be felled by a silly, inappropriate hard foul in an exhibition. The reason is simple ... unlike all the other maladies involved, this isn't about gutting through the pain or adapting to deal with the limitation of the injury. Kobe can't just decide to play through it. The man has a concussion, and thanks to a recently instituted NBA policy, whether or not he plays is entirely out of his hands.
This is a good thing. If Kobe Bryant plays tonight, we should all be happy that he's OK. If he doesn't play tonight, we should all be happy that somebody is preventing him from playing. Because the bottom line is this: You just don't mess with the head.
The brain remains one of the last great mysteries to modern medicine. Humanity knows a great deal about how the brain functions, and what problems can occur, but how a person's brain is going to react to a concussion is a baffling. Most folks will be fine, recovering as quickly as within a few hours. Sometimes, it takes a couple days. And every once in a while, especially with "repeat customers", you get a situation in which somebody will continue to experience concussion symptoms weeks and months later.
Kobe Bryant is tough as nails. If the decision to play tonight was in his hands, you would have a 100% guarantee that he would be out there. Which is why I'm glad it's not in his hands. If he's still experiencing symptoms of a concussion, he has to sit. The policy from the NBA states that a player who experiences a concussion must be symptom free for a full 24 hour period prior to playing in a game. Then, after 24 hours, the player must go through a series of exercises of increasing intensity, starting with a stationary bike and ending up with agility drills, and the player must not have any symptoms return throughout the entire testing process. Kobe was just diagnosed with the concussion yesterday, which is why it seems unlikely that his symptoms will have gone away in time for him to be able to suit up for tonight's contest. You can bet every penny you've got that he'll do everything he can to be able to play, but he can't fake the test. The process is out of his hands, and entirely within a head he has no control over ... his own. As of the time of this writing, there is still no word, which I guess means him playing is a possibility, since we'd already know if he'd failed to meet any of the requirements.
It will be interesting to see how the Lakers handle themselves without Kobe, if in fact he does not play. On the one hand, there really isn't a good option at shooting guard on the roster besides Mr. Mamba. It's a problem even when Kobe is playing, because there is nobody who can spell him effectively at the position. Andrew Goudelock has played well off the bench, but usually in more of a lead guard role. He lacks the size to play the 2 in the NBA, as does every other guard on the roster. That leaves one of the left over small forwards, like Jason Kapono or Matt Barnes or newly recalled Devin Ebanks, but all of them have been various shades of terrible at the 2 in limited run. There are no good answers.
On the other hand, it's a well known NBA phenomenon that teams who play without the superstar around which they usually operate always seem to do better in the short term without said player. The number of potential explanations for this are numerous. Maybe the lack of that central star makes the other players come to the game with a bunker mentality. Maybe it helps them focus their efforts, knowing they need to be at their peak to be successful. Maybe their opponents underestimate the team because of the missing star. Maybe the team operates in a way the opponent is not prepared for. Dynamics change, roles change, and for whatever reason, in the short term it always seems to be the team missing the star who benefits. Over time, these things work themselves out and a team's performance will reflect that they are missing the central guy that makes them tick. But we don't need to worry about "over time" ... not yet anyways. We need only worry about one night.
The opponent for tonight, the Minnesota Timberwolves, come in on the back of a one game high. They used a huge 4th quarter to put away the L.A.. Clippers in Staples Center just last night. The Wolves are doing a decent job improving on the obscurity that has enveloped them over the past few years. They've finally got a decent coach (sorry Rambis), they have the best power forward in the league in Kevin Love, and while the taking of so many point guards all those years ago was indeed idiotic, we finally found out that one of them was worth it. Ricky Rubio is enjoying a fine first season as a pro, and his court vision is every bit as magical as it was advertised. Combined with a breakout season for previously unknown Nikola Pekovic at center, and decent seasons from the likes of J.J. Barea, Derrick Williams, and Michael Beasley, the Wolves are a respectable .500 team that is an outside threat at a low playoff spot, which is vast improvement over where they've been each of the last few seasons.
The Lakers, for their part, have Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and a defense that is capable of fantastic performances. Kevin Love is a terrific offensive player and rebounder, but defense is a bit of a weakness for him, so Pau Gasol will need to attack him on that end to avoid being attacked on the other end. Bynum needs to play like an All Star (not to be confused with how he played as an All Star) in Bryant's (supposed) absence. The rest of the guys need to move the ball and make their open shots, and bring the kind of defense that we've seen in home games all season long.
Kobe or no Kobe, this is a winnable contest for a team that excels at home.