By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Feb 12 2010 11:55AM
What's good for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers might not be, in this case, good for Bryant's Most Valuable Player ambitions.
Of course, neither is Kevin Durant's rising star.
The decision by all parties in Lakers-land for Bryant to withdraw from the activities of NBA All-Star Weekend is a smart one. As much as the league, the fans in the stands in Dallas and the viewers watching from home might want to see Bryant in all his 12th All-Star appearance, 2009-10 splendor, the fact is, he's hurting and hobbled, and slogging through a weekend of events and appearances on-court and off wouldn't be the routine prescribed by his doctor, trainer or physical therapist. The Race watched New Orleans guard Chris Paul, aided by a pair of brushed-steel crutches, slowly navigate his way from hotel ballroom to hotel ballroom Thursday afternoon. In fact, The Race very nearly got tangled up in Paul's crutches while walking and talking immediately to the Hornets point guard's left.
That's all the NBA needs: The Race or some other august body inadvertently stepping on Bryant's sprained left ankle. So let's etch a cautionary rule right here and now: When The Race's first step is as quick as the player's, said player shall not participate in any pastime more grueling than napping.
By staying away, Bryant gets to rest, recuperate and avoid clumsy reporters, photographers and MVP-monitoring committees. [The Race does not believe for a minute that the Lakers star woke up Thursday morning, clicked to The Weather Channel, saw the popcorn-sized snowflakes descending on Dallas and realized in that instant how much, gee, his ankle hurts after all.]
By missing the Lakers' last three games before the break, meanwhile, Bryant provided that team with an opportunity to demonstrate serious resiliency on three successive superstar-less nights. Los Angeles won at Portland, vs. San Antonio and at Utah by an average of 14.7 points. They beat top-notch, or at least Tier 2, competition handily and both looked good and had fun doing it.
So where's the downside in all that? After all, Bryant gets to heal and gets a breather at a point in the season when players really need it, across a long, demanding weekend when most of the NBA's other top dogs are at their busiest. Consider Durant: Oklahoma City's phenom will serve as the assistant coach Friday for the newbies in the Rookie Challenge game, defend his H.O.R.S.E. title on Saturday and then, as the league's breakout star this season, make his All-Star Game debut on Sunday. Along with all the media obligations, ticket procurements, PSA tapings and photo sessions.
The rest of the Lakers will return from the break for home games against Golden State and Boston feeling better about themselves -- their supporting cast-ness for Bryant -- than at any point this season. Some longtime L.A. observers even see a dark lining to that silver cloud, since Bryant doesn't so much blend himself into any edition of the Lakers as squat on it. One blogger in the Los Angeles Times wrote: "The Lakers superstar discovered that his guys are a whole lot better, and more cohesive and together and on the same page, than they are when he, Kobe, is dribbling out the clock, holding the ball and trying to beat three guys off the dribble while hoisting up 20 to 35 shots a game.''
The Race is not interested in sporting soap operas or schisms. It does, however, perk up when a player as valuable as Bryant can call in hurt and the assembly line hiccups not. One of the great unwritten standards with almost all MVP voters is how a team fares when that trophy candidate isn't around. As the saying goes, sometimes your absence is your presence. [Or vice versa, The Race never remembers.]
Does the team sink like a stone without its best player? Or does it plug along, resourceful and even renewed? The Lakers' recent success without Bryant suggests that the crew around him is more capable than many assumed. Which suggests that lifting them up isn't as weighty a task as what LeBron James does in Cleveland or what Durant does with the Thunder.
And that explains the little leap-frog near the top of this week's ranking:
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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