Byron Scott wants to limit Kobe’s minutes, back-to-backs: ‘I don’t want him to go out hurt’

Los Angeles Lakers fans got some welcome news last week, when Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding reported that superstar swingman Kobe Bryant has been “medically cleared for all basketball activities” after undergoing shoulder surgery in January. Lakers coach Byron Scott’s thrilled, too, and now that he’s got his top gun back following three consecutive season-ending injuries, he says he’s committed to doing whatever he can to make sure the future Hall of Famer stays in working order — including instituting a minutes cap aimed at ensuring the 37-year-old Bryant won’t once again suffer from overuse.

From a wide-ranging interview with Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:

Q. What decisions are you facing with Kobe?
A. I think the biggest decision is playing time, trying to make that as limited as possible and also back-to-back games. That’s something we have to talk about. Other than that, there really is no other decision to make. He wants to play, and he wants to go out the way he wants to go out — if this is indeed his final year. He and I have talked a number of times on the phone, we’ve talked about playing time, we’ve talked about back-to-backs, we’re going to probably sit down as we get closer to training camp or as we get in training camp and even talk more about it. Because the one thing I want, if this is his last year, I want him to go out standing. I don’t want him to go out hurt. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure we stick to the game plan, as far as his minutes and as far as back-to-back games.
Q. What do you mean by as “limited as possible?”
A. I didn’t mean play as limited as possible. Obviously we want to keep him as efficient as possible, but I know he knows his body better than anybody. When we start talking about those minutes, I want to listen to him more than anything. I’m not going to go by what I think he can play like I did last year, I want to really go by what he thinks he can play. Then I want to make sure we stick to that.
It’s something Scott and the Lakers didn’t have in place early last season, when the 36-year-old Bryant returned from a broken kneecap to a workload more appropriate for a Mamba 10 years younger.

Kobe logged fewer than 30 minutes in each of his first two games; L.A. lost both, by a combined 38 points. Over the next 25 contests, Bryant averaged 36 minutes a game, topping 37 seven times and 40 minutes on four occasions, while jacking up 22.5 shots a night. He passed Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in mid-December and just kept on firing, appearing to hit a wall well before Scott deigned to give him a break.

By mid-January, the 12-27 Lakers sat a full 10 games behind the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference. Through 39 games, L.A. had been outscored by a whopping 12.6 points per 100 possessions with Bryant on the floor, and had outscored opponents by a strong 4.5 points-per-100 with him on the bench, according to NBA.com’s stat tool.

The team seemed to be going nowhere and, at times, to look better with Bryant off the floor. Arguments were forwarded that, with Kobe looking the worse for all that early-season wear, the Lakers would’ve been well served to reduce his playing time, or even — famously insane competitor or no — shut him down. Scott dismissed that notion, saying he wouldn’t consider more significant rest for Kobe until the Lakers were “nowhere near playoff contention in March.”

Scott took this tack despite Bryant telling him he felt dinged up, according to ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes:

Kobe Bryant might have said it at a practice or a game, and he might have said it a month ago, or maybe longer. Byron Scott doesn’t quite remember.
What the Lakers coach does remember is his star guard saying that his shoulder was bothering him.
“You all right?” Scott said he asked Bryant.
“I’m all right,” Bryant replied.
The two never talked about the issue again, Scott said.
One week after Scott’s “not until March” remarks, Bryant suffered a right shoulder injury that was later revealed to be a torn rotator cuff. Bryant would have to go under the knife yet again; his season was over.

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