It seems as though Kobe Bryant has been gone an eternity; perhaps he has been gone that long, and then some, in basketball years. He has not played much since tearing his Achilles tendon late in the Dwight Howard Experiment.
Another leg injury in the past campaign compounded the problem. However, Bryant now claims to be at full health entering the new season.
When at his best, Kobe Bryant is the most terrifying scorer I have ever witnessed play the game of basketball. There are few statistics that I can find that portray what I have felt when watching Bryant get in “the zone” and enter a mode that is equal parts unstoppable and breathtaking.
When Bryant was personally challenged by a defender, the more difficult shots he would take (and make), adding a degree of difficulty to his onslaughts that cemented his place on my pantheon of greats.
This season, that Kobe Bryant will likely be nowhere to be seen. At age 36 (his age when the season starts), Bryant is not that player anymore.
Sure, Kobe Bryant will pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list in the near future, and I still expect Bryant to be potent on that end of the floor; his game is ever evolving, and he will find ways to put up numbers. I am just not sure that Kobe Bryant needs to drop 81 at this point in his career to make his team successful.
He has been there, he’s done that.
Instead Kobe faces a challenge that he has not seen before in his career, at least not to this magnitude. He will be called upon to mentor a roster full of younger players.
To succeed this season, Bryant will need a combination of his scoring prowess, and a little faith in his teammates. The ability to uplift these young guys and lead them towards one common goal will be a challenge that Bryant has not been faced with, not yet, and has no guarantees that this quest results in victory for him.
Kobe could take on this challenge, lead this team towards the playoff chase, and fail. The Western Conference is loaded, the Los Angeles Lakers are not.
Bryant could easily turn in the best leadership season of his career, and this team could be sitting at home come May. However, success should not be measured just in how this team finishes the season in the standings.
Of course, it’s the Lakers. Playoffs or bust, every year, no matter what.
I love that this is the expectation for this club, and I will always reinforce that expectation. Kobe Bryant will undoubtedly do the same.
Still there are victories to be gained outside of the 82-game schedule. The growth of the youngest players, Randle, Clarkson, and Kelly will help dictate both the present and the future of the club.
Even the steps that the more seasoned young guys take, such as Lin, will play a significant role in how this franchise will operate moving forward.
Bryant will be called upon to be a mentor like never before. He will be asked to be both coach and player.
To score in bunches and facilitate the offense for the newest members. To accelerate the growth of the young talent around him, so that we all may see Kobe Bryant again compete at the highest level of basketball.
That is Kobe Bryant’s newest challenge.