Each week, ESPN.com Lakers beat writer Baxter Holmes, along with ESPN.com NBA writers Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, will weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Los Angeles Lakers followers.
1. Is there any potential downside to having Kobe Bryant sit out practices so he can play more in games?
Holmes: None that really matter. From fans to television viewers to season-ticket holders to corporate sponsors, Lakers coaches and teammates, everyone is better served if Bryant is in the best position to play well when the lights are on. Given his age and mileage, rest is what's best for him right now. If that means he misses a few practices, or even most of them, then it's for the greater good.
Shelburne: Yes. This team needs to improve throughout the season, and practice is the place to work on team concepts. Right now, though, that just can't be helped. The Lakers need the best version of Kobe on the floor during games as much as possible, and if resting during practice is the way to make that happen, they have to do it.
Markazi: In the immortal words of Allen Iverson, "Practice? We're talking about practice?" I don't think there's any downside to Kobe sitting out practices. He wasn't participating in all the practices during training camp, and I didn't expect him to participate in all of them during the season. Bryant is getting paid $25 million per season to play in all 82 games, sell out arenas and draw eyeballs to the television. Whether or not he practices in between doesn't really matter and won't affect the Lakers' fate this season.
2. Is Kobe being honest with himself when he says the contract discount he took was enough for the Lakers to be a contender?
Holmes: I think he's focusing solely on his situation in this market, which is truly unique. In fact, given the Lakers' television deal and what he means to them from a financial standpoint, his massive contract can easily be justified. And if the Lakers had signed Carmelo Anthony last summer, maybe the size of his deal wouldn't be an issue. And yet, here we are.
Shelburne: In his mind he is. Others may have a different opinion. But Kobe has seen the Lakers go very deep into the luxury tax to field a championship contender (as recently as 2012-13) and has no reason to think they wouldn't do so again if the opportunity to acquire championship-caliber players presented itself. The thing is, the opportunity hasn't presented itself recently.
Markazi: Not totally. I mean, yes, he technically took a pay cut and, yes, the Lakers could have offered a max contract last offseason and will be in position to next offseason, but if Kobe had taken a deal similar to what Dirk Nowitzki accepted, the Lakers could have lured two big-name free agents as opposed to one and could have quickly positioned themselves as a contender. As it is, no big-name free agent wants to join the Lakers' rebuild with Kobe alone, and, therefore, their rebuild might not be able to fully take shape until Kobe retires.
3. On the heels of Xavier Henry's season-ending injury, is the Lakers' rash of injuries the past few seasons anything more than bad luck?
Holmes: It is bad luck, but it is a pretty startling streak of bad luck. I mean, losing three players to season-ending health issues and we're not even one month into the season? Lakers coach Byron Scott said he's never seen anything like it. They might want to start bubble-wrapping their players just to be on the safe side.
Shelburne: It's definitely bad luck. There was a sense that the up-tempo system Mike D'Antoni ran last season wore players down and made them more susceptible to injuries, but there has never been any data to back that up. There's also a sense that younger players with a history of injuries like Henry tend to keep getting injured. But again, that's just a theory. Until there's hard and fast data on the issue, you have to chalk it up to bad luck.
Markazi: It's certainly bad luck, but at some point, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a look at how the training staff is doing things in comparison to, say, the Phoenix Suns. Leading the league in players missing games because of injuries in consecutive seasons is a tag no training staff wants, and once it becomes a trend, it might be time to take a closer look at how players are being treated. If it was just Kobe and Steve Nash, you could chalk it up to age, but when you add Julius Randle, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly and Henry, it becomes a bigger problem.