Will Kobe Bryant’s Return Turn Lakers’ Role Players into Afterthoughts?

With Kobe Bryant’s anticipated return to game action drawing ever nearer, a question emerges—will the Los Angeles Lakers’ role players turn back into mere afterthoughts?

Lakers fans better hope not because beyond Pau Gasol, that’s all they’ve got—role players.

Of the full 15-man roster, eight are playing under minimum salary contracts. Of the remaining seven players, four are earning between $1.55 and $4 million. And then there’s Steve Nash—you can call him a role player or a star, but it’s somewhat beside the point since he’s not playing anyway.

Bryant’s return will be one of the biggest stories of the year, of this there is no doubt. Cameras will be rolling and words will be breathlessly typed. There will be every kind of sound bite, media spin, great expectation and most assuredly, rush to judgment that you can imagine. His explosiveness will be measured and his stat line analyzed. Is he the same as he was before? Can he still carry the team on his shoulders?

The question of afterthoughts when it comes to the rest of the Lakers is a case of perception. It is not and won’t be, reality. It can’t be, and Bryant more than anyone knows this. And, it’s nothing new.

During the Phil Jackson era—the one that brought five NBA championships—the term role player was used with respect. Its lineage went back to the Chicago Bulls days, but we won’t belabor history. Suffice to say that for the Lakers’ three-peat, Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were the superstars, and everyone else was a role player. O’Neal was replaced in time by Gasol and Andrew Bynum, but that didn’t change the dynamic or necessity of lesser lights with lesser salaries.

That was then; this is now. Bryant is heading into his 18th season in the NBA. The ones that came before were...

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