Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant Forming A Big 3?

Los Angeles Lakers rebuilding sounds delightful to envious fans that have despised the nearly two decades of championships owned by the franchise. For the Los Angeles faithful, this rut in their search for success has them reaching for tissues. Boasting a laundry list of Hall of Famers and 16 Larry O’Brien trophies, the expectation of […]
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant Forming A Big 3? – Hoops Habit – Hoops Habit – Analysis, Opinion and Stats All About The NBA

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James Harden says Kobe Bryant has “been working,” expects to see “20-year-old Kobe” next season

On October 28, the Los Angeles Lakers will begin the 2014-15 season with a much anticipated matchup with the Houston Rockets. While there are intriguing storylines surrounding the game involving Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant will obviously be the big draw for a couple of reasons. For one, it will be the first time that Kobe has faced off against Dwight since he left town last summer, though, more importantly, it will be the return of the Black Mamba to the basketball court.
After appearing in just six games last season, the basketball world is anxious to see Bryant back on the court, and if Harden’s assessment of the five-time champion’s current form is anything to go by, fans of the purple and gold should be very excited.
“I know he’s been working. We’ve talked a few times and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe,” Harden said in an interview with ThePostGame. “So, it should be a crazy environment. I’m ready for the upcoming season, it should be a good one.”
20-year-old Kobe

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Do the Los Angeles Lakers Owe Kobe Bryant More in His Final Chapter?

As Kobe Bryant prepares for the mental, physical and emotional rides sure to follow in his 19th NBA season, it cannot be easy for him to shake one haunting question.

Is this it?

That’s not a confrontation with mortality either. After a torn Achilles and fractured tibia have twice put him face-to-face with the game’s grim reaper over the past 16 months, he knows all too well which side of his hourglass holds the most sand grains.

What Bryant could (and honestly should) have a hard time understanding is how the Los Angeles Lakers have botched the last leg of his journey this badly.

L.A. set a franchise record for losses last season (55) and had its second-lowest winning percentage ever (.329). While they should have a healthy Bryant this time aroundwhich it didn’t for all but six games last yearthe Lakers could conceivably be worse.

“The team has gone from not knowing who was its third-best player behind Bryant and Pau Gasol to not knowing who is its second-best player now,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding. “And Bryant still has to prove that he can stay healthy and produce as a best player must.”

Even if things get better, the difference could be marginal. Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal pegged the Lakers for 32 victories, two more than they were given by the ESPN Forecast panel.

“Those thinking the Lakers will be marginally better than last year are on the right track, because that’s what they are: slightly more talented, walking a slippery slope, one injury away from another season-long fiasco, one Kobe Bryant renaissance shy of exceeding minimal expectations,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale.

The offensive talent has improved through the offseason arrivals of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and rookie Julius Randle, but where is the fortune-reversing needle-mover in that group? Don’t go looking for it, because it isn’t there.

New coach Byron Scott isn’t bringing it with him either. He wants to form a defensive identity, but neither this roster nor his track record suggests that one is coming.

On paper, the Lakers should score a ton of points and give up even more. If that recipe sounds familiar, it should. Those are the same ingredients left over from last season’s debacle.

Bryant, of course, will never see the situation as such. Or he won’t admit it if he does, at least.

Rather than sulk over swinging and missing on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James this summer, Bryant has tried taking a page out of the “good job, good effort” kid’s book on positivity.

When he says those things, you really want to believe him.

You want to feel like he’s excited about getting a veteran like Boozer or a prospect like Randle. You hope that he can help Lin find some of his old magic and stabilize the point guard position Steve Nash’s 40-year-old frame won’t allow him to play.

You almost get excited for Bryant when you remember the size of that chip on his shoulder and what it might mean for this opportunity in front of him.

“There’s a reason ‘Braveheart’ stands next to ‘Gladiator’ and ‘The Godfather’ atop the movie-loving Bryant’s all-time list,” Ding wrote last summer for the Orange County Register. ”Beyond winning or leading his own army, his dream was to lead his underdog army to the ultimate victory.”

The concept is enticing. Just try imagining a rejuvenated, refueled Bryant helping the undermanned Lakers slay the dragons of the Western Conference.

But that picture doesn’t last long, does it? It’s just not realistic enough for our minds to really bring it to life.

Now, think about what that actually means. Think about the caliber of player we’re discussing—and the fact that he isn’t good enough to save this squad.

This is Kobe Bean Bryant, or the Black Mamba as he’s known inside the lines. This is a generational superstar, one of the greatest players this league has ever seen.

This is a guy who not only patterned his game after Michael Jordan’s, but also built one of the very few resumes capable of standing toe-to-toe with his.

This is one of the only names that can be mentioned in the same breath as Jordan’s without the speaker getting laughed out of the room. Heck, Jordan himself has linked the two together, via author Roland Lazenby:

“Kobe is the only guy with the will and the skill to even come close,” wrote NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin. “Kobe and Jordan are cut from the same cloth, both driven to compete, to win, to do whatever it takes to get there. Their will and drive stood out in the ultra-competitive NBA. There will not be many more like them.”

The Lakers need to appreciate the time they have left with Bryant, and handing him a lifetime achievement award in the form of a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension isn’t nearly enough. Not even if he might say it is:

This isn’t about money.

It’s about preserving Bryant’s identity.

His reality is changing. His lift isn’t the same, and neither is his place in this profession. He’s trying his best to adjust on the fly, to learn how to exist inside a kingdom he used to claim.

It isn’t likely Bryant will return to his past production levels, but he could find his way somewhere close.

Before suffering that torn Achilles—after logging 43.5 minutes a night over a 10-game stretch for this franchise at age 34—he was putting up 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds. He isn’t as far removed from his elite past as his prolonged absence has made it seem.

But his days of being that vicious, venomous Mamba as we know him are over. Because what separated him from his peers wasn’t statistics, success or star power.

It was his perpetually unquenched competitive thirst, now a wasted gift for a team with a best-case scenario that stops short of a playoff berth.

Bryant has given the Lakers everything: 1,245 games (25th in NBA history), 45,567 minutes (13th) and 31,700 points (fourth). He’s the only player among the league’s top-nine scoring leaders to have never worn a different jersey.

His loyalty has been rewarded with endless stacks of cash, complementary supporting casts and, for a long time, one of the loudest voices inside the organization.

The Lakers are moving forward now, only Bryant’s reign hasn’t ended. He’ll close out one of the finest careers in NBA history by spending the next two seasons as a walking relic, a legendary competitor with no chance to compete.

For everything he has given this organization, this league and this sport as a whole, he deserved a far better fate than this.

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James Harden Expects to See a ’20-Year-Old’ Kobe Bryant on the Court This Season

Everybody is curious to see how Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant plays this season after he has missed parts of the last two seasons with serious leg injuries. The Houston Rockets’ James Harden firmly believes that the Black Mamba will be ready to play when he steps onto the court.

The Lakers and the Rockets open the 2014-15 season against each other on Oct. 28 at the Staples Center. There is no doubt that all eyes will be on Bryant that night.

[ThePostGame, h/t LakersNation]

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What Kobe Bryant Can Learn from Paul Pierce’s Ageless Game

He may be 36 years old and coming off a season fraught with injury, but Kobe Bryant‘s superhuman credentials remain as credible as ever.

Even as his Los Angeles Lakers look to rebound from a 27-55 record, Bryant is attempting a comeback of his own after playing just six games last season.

Chances are the results will be impressive. They usually are when Bryant’s involved. 

But the anticipatory chatter is already cementing a reputation that probably didn’t need any help.

Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Ballard recently spoke with “longtime physical therapist for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers” Judy Seto, and the fallout only serves to further enhance an iconic legacy that—in the eyes of many—ranks as the true heir to Michael Jordan.

Regarding Bryant’s threshold for pain, Seto contended that, “It’s the highest that I’ve ever seen.  He channels his focus so well in terms of just the task at hand. But also when he’s had pain, he can block that out. I mean, I think a good example is when he tore his Achilles, he made those free throws. He blocked it out and focused.”

Those free throws were a reminder that for all of Bryant’s talent and titles, it may be his fortitude that truly sets him apart.

“He’s remarkable,” then-Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said at the time, per ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin. “For him to hit the fouls shots is remarkable. It just didn’t end. You have a greater appreciation to what he wills himself to do.”

It was a historic moment, but there’s little doubt Bryant hopes to avoid repeating it. Going forward, he’s focusing on staying healthy and making the most of his career’s few remaining years.

So it should come as no surprise that the 16-time All-Star is doing his homework.

Ballard separately reports that, “In preparing for this season, Bryant told friends that the player he is analyzing, as an example of adjusting your game as you get older, is fellow 36-year-old Paul PierceThis is part of his goal to become ‘more efficient’ on the court.”

The notion that Bryant has anything to learn from Pierce may sound self-evidently absurd.

Don’t get me wrong—Pierce, now a member of the Washington Wizards after just one season with the Brooklyn Nets, has left an indelible mark on the NBA.

But he’s no Kobe.

And after averaging a career-low 13.5 points last season, Pierce hardly seems like an appropriate role model for Bryant, who—during the 2012-13 campaign—tallied 27.3 points per contest. Pierce has never averaged more than 26.8 points in a season, and that was all the way back in 2005-06.

Still, one would assume Bryant knows best. He’s an unrivaled student of the game, so if he believes Pierce can teach him something, perhaps there’s something to it.

To his credit, Pierce has missed just 19 games combined over the course of the last four season. That’s a strong track record that indicates he’s taken good care of his body and subjected himself to minimal wear and tear late into his career.

It helps that he’s averaged fewer than 35 minutes per game in each of those seasons and as few as just 28 minutes per contest a season ago.

By comparison, Bryant averaged at least 38.5 minutes in both 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Though he almost certainly has the motor to sustain that kind of pace, there’s something to be said for more modest playing time—perhaps even sitting some games out. Selling Bryant on such a proposal may not be easy, but it’s probably the first thing he should take away from Pierce’s enduring health.

The Kansas product has also remained effective largely on account of methodical footwork, up-and-under moves and fall-away jumpers—the kind of savviness that obviates a need for elite athleticism and otherwise reduces the risk of collision or dangerous landings.

As NBCSports.com’s Kurt Helin recently put it, “Pierce‘s gets to the elbows and once there unleashes an old-man-at-the-YMCA game on his opponents, getting off an array of crafty shots that seem to always find the bottom of the net. He’s evolved that part of his game over the years.”

CBSSports.com’s James Herbert used similar language, writing, “The crafty Pierce has adapted about as well as anyone. He has an arsenal of little head-fakes and ball-fakes, and he knows how to get his shot off, even if he can’t create as much space as he used to.”

The common theme?

Pierce is ridiculously “crafty.”

And for that matter, so is Bryant. Even when his athleticism was still without peer, he conjured MJ with dizzying moves on the wing, from the elbow and in the post. Always a deep threat and lethal slasher, it’s been Bryant’s smooth in-between game that makes him virtually impossible to stop.

To that end, it’s probably fair to assume watching video of Pierce won’t translate into some kind of dramatic renaissance in Bryant’s game.

It’s the little things that will make the difference, nuanced tendencies that may add a few options to Bryant’s already robust bag of tricks.

Pierce’s game could be especially instructive in light of the fact that he was never quite as athletic as Bryant. In turn, his techniques reason to be of value for a one-time acrobat suddenly faced with the increasing demands of gravity.

“There are certain things that my body can’t do that I used to be able to do,” Bryant told Ballard. “And you have to be able to deal with those. First you have to be able to figure out what those are. Last year when I came back, I was trying to figure out what changed. And that’s a very hard conversation to have.”

Bryant added, “I’ll be sharper. Much sharper. Much more efficient in areas. I’ll be limited in terms of what you see me do, versus a couple years ago. But very, very methodical, very, very purposeful.”

Maybe he’ll get there with a little help from Paul Pierce.

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Kobe Bryant studying old rival on how to adjust game

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is using his old rival as an example of how to become “more efficient” on the court at the age of 36. Bryant, who turned 36 on Aug. 23, is preparing to make his comeback from a knee injury and has been studying Paul Pierce this offseason. From Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard: In preparing for this season, Bryant told friends that the player he is analyzing, as an example of adjusting your game as you get older, is fellow 36-year-old Paul Pierce. This is part of his goal to become “more efficient” on the court. Said Bryant, “I’m going to max [my last two years] out too, to do whatever I can. Leave no stone unturned, no water left in the sponge.” 

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Kobe Bryant trash talked LeBron James after ‘The Decision’

The Los Angeles Lakers had just defeated the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, making them back-to-back NBA champions, but all of the attention was on LeBron James and his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. That did not sit well with Kobe Bryant. From Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding: With a brutal seven-game victory over the Celtics in the bank for Bryant, the 2010 offseason is dominated by LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. What matters to Bryant is Phil Jackson agreeing to return to coach the Lakers again in pursuit of a third consecutive NBA title. Bryant sends James a text message. It goes like this: “Go ahead and get another MVP, if you want. And find the city you want to live in. But we’re going to win the championship. Don’t worry about it.” James went on to win two NBA titles during his four years in Miami, while Bryant has failed to make it out of the second round with the Lakers since the summer of 2010. [Boston.com] The post Kobe Bryant

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Why Kobe Bryant Enters 2014-15 Season as the Most Unpredictable NBA Star

There are two kinds of people who claim to know what Kobe Bryant will give the Los Angeles Lakers this year: legitimate clairvoyants and liars.

Actually, there are three. If pressed, Bryant himself would reveal that in his heart of hearts, he believes he’ll have a dominant age-36 season. But even the supreme confidence of a generational star like Bryant now comes with a dash of rationalization, per an interview with Scooby Axson of Sports Illustrated:

So when I hear pundits and people talk, saying, ‘Well, he won’t be what he was.’ Know what? You’re right. I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before.

Bryant may have convinced himself that he knows what lies ahead this season, but with all he’s been through, the rest of us can’t be so sure.

There was the Achilles rupture in 2012-13 that ended his season. After just six games in the subsequent campaign, Bryant’s fractured leg put an early coda on 2013-14 as well.

There’s just no way to know how Bryant will perform physically after losing so much time to serious injuries. Maybe he’s right, though. Maybe the productivity will still be there—just achieved through different means.

Head coach Byron Scott told Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: “He will be on the low box, he’ll be in the mid-post, he can be there a lot more than he has in the past and I think he can be very, very effective in all those areas.”

In Bryant’s last full season, he was an absolute monster on the block, ranking fifth among all NBA players in points per play on post-ups, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Just 13.1 percent of Bryant’s possessions were devoted to touches on the block in 2012-13, a figure that should significantly increase in the upcoming campaign. If Bryant suffers a modest decline in efficiency as his volume spikes, not to worry—he’ll remain a flat-out elite threat in the post.

“The mid-post is my kill zone. I have a go-to move and a counter. Try to stop ‘em,” Bryant told campers in a Shanghai Q&A.

It would seem that if Bryant is capable of walking upright, he’ll be capable of dominating down low.

Then again, the strange composition of the Lakers roster makes matters a bit more complicated than that. New additions in Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin and Ed Davis all figure to have significant roles, and Pau Gasol is no longer on the roster as a facilitator in the frontcourt.

Toss in the perpetual uncertainty surrounding Steve Nash’s health, and it’s awfully tough to get a handle on how this team will play and what roles each cog will fill. Bryant has had success as a primary scorer (duh) and a setup artist (he averaged six assists per game in 2012-13 and 6.3 in his shortened effort last year, the two highest totals of his career).

But in addition to the uncertainty of a body that may not hold up anymore and the challenges of establishing chemistry with new teammates, Bryant’s projected performance gets even hazier because of the issues he might have with a potentially poor Lakers team.

“If things are going well, I don’t think there will be a problem with him buying in,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Bolch. “It’s when things aren’t going well and maybe we’re not playing as well as he thinks we should be, things of that sort, that he may feel that he needs to play more, do more.”

Kobe has never been shy about voicing displeasure with his team’s performance, and he’s never waited long to initiate “Operation: Takeover” when he doubts the abilities of teammates. Mediocrity, which is probably the best bet for the Lakers this year, has never sat well with Bryant.

Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, Bryant laid it all out on the line late last season: 

How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all. This is not what we stand for. This is not what we play for. A lot of times it’s hard to understand that message if you’re not a diehard Laker fan. It’s hard to really understand where we’re coming from and what we’re accustomed to, which is playing for championships and everything else is a complete failure. That’s just how it is.

That was a frustrated Bryant, one who had just recently decided his season was over. He’s been less extreme in his comments since then, but we can all agree that those sentiments came from a truthful place.

How will Bryant react, physically and mentally, to a season in which the playoffs are a pipe dream? And will his body even allow him to shoulder the load like it used to?

Nobody knows.

If Bryant were to somehow perform like a star this year, it would be unprecedented. But in 2012-13, he averaged over 27 points, five rebounds and six assists per game, joining Boston Celtics great John Havlicek as the only players to accumulate those totals after their 10th seasons. LeBron James became the third last year.

Bryant has a way of setting precedents for the unprecedented.

Maybe he’ll put up numbers like those. Maybe he’ll decline a bit on offense but actually make an effort on defense. You know the growing criticism for his asleep-at-the-wheel approach to D in recent seasons has to be irking him.

As should now be abundantly clear, there are more questions than answers surrounding Bryant.

He’s not alone in his unpredictability, though.

Derrick Rose could soar as a born-again MVP threat, or his surgically reconstructed knees might bring him crashing back to earth again.

The spectrum of possibilities open to Anthony Davis might be as broad as the one ahead of Bryant, though The Brow’s potential outcomes cover a more positive range—with fringe MVP candidate and Holy Basketball God-King representing the two extremes.

Milwaukee Bucks second-year stud Giannis Antetokounmpo could also rightly be termed an unpredictable talent. We’ve never seen anything quite like him.

But with Bryant’s combination of past greatness, age and mileage, we can’t rule anything out. Maybe we’ll witness a complete physical breakdown. Younger players with less wear and tear have fallen off cliffs before, and most of them hadn’t suffered through the catastrophic injury Bryant did.

Or perhaps we’ll watch a guy who put together one of the best age-34 seasons for a guard double down and perform as the best age-36 guard of all time.

Sift through the numbers and you can probably come out with evidence to support whichever preexisting bias you have for or against Bryant’s chances to perform like a superstar this year.

Kobe will either do the impossible because he’s Kobe, doer of impossible things, or he might be done as an impact player.

Kevin Garnett screamed it when he beat Bryant’s Lakers in the 2008 Finals:

That’s right, KG, anything is possible—especially when it comes to Kobe’s 2014-15 season.

The search for certainty has so far proved fruitless, but we can safely bank on this: Whatever limitations Bryant’s body imposes, and whatever constraints his team and situation place on him, he’ll try like hell to overcome them.

He’s never been doubted like this before, and Bryant hasn’t had more to prove for almost two decades.

Nobody knows if Kobe will succeed in his struggle to dominate, but the only safe prediction is that he’ll push himself to the absolute edge trying. 

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Can Kobe Bryant Silence Even His Strongest Skeptics Entering Age-36 Season?

Kobe Bryant and the concept of “can’t” have never gone together. 

He couldn’t win a title without Shaquille O’Neal. He couldn’t will the ill-starred 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers into the playoffs. 

He can’t successfully come back from two severe injuries at 36 years old, with nearly two decades of NBA wear and tear on his treads and inordinate amounts of self-foisted pressure on his back. 

Supernatural work ethic and competitive fire in mind, Bryant could be done. He should be done. His 78-game on-court attack in 2012-13 will go down as his swan song, the last time Bryant is remembered for being Bryant.

That’s what his strongest skeptics will say without hesitation. They won’t bend to Bryant’s unfathomable drive. They won’t submit to his self-endorsing droplets of wisdom.

Is this decision to doubt him, to write him off, something Bryant will make them come to regret? Or are his agnostics the ones with a firm grip on reality? 


Laying Groundwork

Doubt is everywhere as it pertains to Bryant. But so, too, is optimism.

“I’m not worried,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Sports On Earth’s Lyle Spencer. ”Kobe looks great. He’s had two rough years. The Achilles was a freak thing, and the knee—I’m not sure anybody can predict that kind of thing. He’s actually been healthy since May. He’s ready, motivated. And he’s engaged.”

For every one person who believes Bryant is finished, there are more dreamers and idealists subscribing to different logic. Many of them are members of the Lakers organization itself, like Kupchak. Anyone responsible or who had a hand in offering him that two-year, $48.5 million extension before he even returned from a ruptured Achilles can be colored a believer.

This is one of the many things often lost on said extension. It’s quickly cited for its ridiculousness. Ensuring that Bryant remains the highest-paid player in the NBA through 2015-16 is questionable at best, if not insane.

Defenses of said deal are even less common this side of his latest knee injury. Those bold enough to justify it frequently turn to Bryant’s off-court value. He is a brand himself—a moneymaking powerhouse on his own. He is the Lakers.

On some level, though, the investment is about faith. Part of the organization has to believe he can return amid fanfare and peerless anticipation only to defy conventional thinking again. 

Why else would a transitioning Lakers team assemble a supporting cast that, while cheap, is enough for Bryant himself to believe? 

“It’s my job to go out there next season and lay it all out there on the line and get us to that elite level,” he said while reflecting on Los Angeles’ offseason.

The roster isn’t being mythologized in Bryant’s mind, nor are the standards he’s holding himself to being inwardly fabricated. The Lakers will ask him to do things. Big things. New head coach Byron Scott is already counting on him to be the glue holding everything Lakers together.

“I am looking forward to having Kobe as a guy that I can turn to and say, ‘Let’s get the ball to this guy, and he can make things happen,’” he told CBS Los Angeles’ Jim Hill.

What he’s able to make—or not make—happen will define his second return. 


Adjusting the Concept of Success

Cautious optimism on behalf of the Lakers creates expectations—unclear expectations.

Ask Bryant, and he’ll talk about the playoffs. He’ll discuss competing for a championship. He’ll tell you all the things that Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle can do. He’ll argue in favor of himself and his capacity to carry an entire team.

Realistically, though, the Lakers aren’t a championship team. Even if Bryant were five, seven or nine years younger, this Lakers squad would remain a placeholder for what the franchise hopes is better days. 

Expectations must be adjusted accordingly.

Skeptics aren’t those who think Bryant and the Lakers won’t win a championship next season. They are the realists. Bryant’s season cannot be written off no matter what he does just because a team that’s not built to contend didn’t contend.

Non-believers are the ones who are precluding Bryant from being successful on an individual scale. Questions about his health will be met with pessimism. His potential to prosper statistically will be scoffed at. They will not be sold on his ability to remain elite. 

The grounds for such thinking aren’t unwarranted completely. Bryant isn’t going to match his otherworldly efforts from 2012-13 point for point, minute for minute. 

Scott isn’t going to play Bryant 38-plus minutes a night the way Mike D’Antoni did then, making it hard for him to duplicate his statistical output. He became the oldest player in league history to average at least 26 points, five rebounds and six assists per game during the 2012-13 campaign. To believe he’ll rival those numbers is to set him up for failure, because the Lakers aren’t going to put him in a position to go that bonkers.

Instead, Bryant will be measured against more general feats.

Can he stay healthy? Can he adjust his game to accommodate his new limitations? Will he be productive at all, able to function as a No. 1 offensive option on a team that still needs him to score and make plays?

Those are the tasks—among others—Bryant is up against. They’re what he’s been up against since rupturing his Achilles in April 2013. For him to silence his critics, this return, like the one before it, needs to carry substance. It cannot be purely symbolic. 

That’s a harrowing chore by itself. And it’s one in which The American Journal of Sports Medicine (h/t Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com)—responding to Bryant’s placement within ESPN.com’s 2013 player rankings (No. 25)—found evidence to suggest cannot be completed after looking at 18 players who suffered the same Achilles injury:

Of those 18 players, 7 were never able to return to NBA action, 3 returned for just one season, and the remaining 8 would go on to play 2 or more seasons. And of those players that returned, their performance suffered drastically, especially in their first season. In their study of the 11 players that returned to the NBA, the players’ PER (player efficiency rating), decreased by an average of 4.57 points. In the second, it decreased by 4.38 points.

… If you decreased his PER by the average reduction of 4.57…you’d find that Kobe would’ve ranked 49th in the league last year, some 24 spots higher than where ESPN has him in their NBA Rank. Kobe is an animal, but the stats indicate that the anger towards his NBA Rank of 25 is far from justified.

History is further against Bryant after his latest setback. It also doesn’t help that he regressed into a defensive liability during his last dominant season. 

The Lakers—who finished 18th in defensive efficiency that year—were 4.4 points worse per 100 defensive possessions with Bryant on the floor, according to NBA.com. How is he supposed to be a two-way player now? Without the comfort of Metta World Peace or Dwight Howard? When he already started devolving into a one-sided contributor? 

Past examples—like that of Elton Brand—work against Bryant. Age works against Bryant.

Part of Bryant’s historic 2012-13 crusade works against Bryant.

Defying each form of logic, and each piece of evidence, is the only way Bryant silences his doubters.


Disproving the Immeasurable

So, can he? Can Bryant quell the cries of detractors? And if so, what will that look like?

Measurable expectations are the enemy here, because they don’t exist.

There is no statistical calculation that will draw the line between success and failure. No definitive number of wins or losses makes judging his second return any easier. The answer to our query is fluid, and as Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Ballard inadvertently alludes to, located within the presence of expectations themselves: 

At this point, Bryant has institutionalized his mentality. Again and again over the week, he repeats his mantras, telling the Chinese kids to ‘be strong’ and ‘learn from failure’ and ‘never stop working to get better.’ Here is the thing: Bryant encourages these kids to grow from weakness, but he never shows any himself. You know how Kobe deals with a torn Achilles? He tries to pull the damn thing up, then stays in the game to take, and make, two free throws. Aging? Kobe has publicly scoffed at the notion that Father Time is undefeated. Armed with a roster of Lins and Boozers, Kobe says he’s thinking championship. And he really does buy into this stuff. 

In other words, let the question be the answer.

None of this would be an issue if we weren’t discussing Bryant. We wouldn’t have to entertain his capacity to prove people wrong—and to what degree he can prove those people wrong—if he weren’t himself. 

This is what makes him Bryant: the fact we’re wont to dissect otherwise absurd claims he makes and beliefs he has. 

Imagine if another player Bryant’s age had suffered these injuries less than a year apart. Steve Nash, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are the only qualified players aged 36 or older to post a player efficiency rating above 20 since 2009. Would they have been expected to perform at that exact level following similar setbacks?

Probably not. 

Late 30-somethings coming off two major injuries aren’t supposed to be counted on for regular minutes and consistent contributions. Bryant will be.

Nineteen-year veterans who have come to grips with their own basketball mortality aren’t sources of anomalistic bravado most 25-year-old All-Stars wouldn’t dare embrace. Bryant is.

Fading stars who are actually finished, who are wholly incapable of matching or exceeding the expectations set in front of them—whatever they may be—don’t incite this seemingly unnatural debate. 

Bryant has, which tells us all we need to know about this 36-year-old: As loud and logic-loaded as his most strong-willed critics may be, the possibility that he spits in their face and vanquishes their doubt is stronger, because it exists at all.


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Anonymous NBA General Manager Says Kobe Bryant Has ‘Zero’ Trade Value

Trade value is often a subjective measure of a player’s actual worth, and Kobe Bryant could be the extreme example of that.

Last seasonbefore he had returned from a torn Achillesthe Los Angeles Lakers deemed him valuable enough for a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension. That cemented his spot as the NBA‘s highest-paid player and all but assured that the five-time champion would eventually retire having worn only the famed purple and gold during his storied career.

Having Bryant’s basketball story end in the same place where it started seemed to be a major motivation for both sides. The business and sentimental ties were just as apparent as the money when the heavy commitment was made public.

According to one general manager, though, those bonds need to be as strong as ever. Even if Bryant and the Lakers somehow grew apart, the executive said the two sides would be stuck with one another, via Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:

Seven months after he ruptured his left Achilles ­tendon—and three weeks before he fractured his left ­kneecap—Bryant­ signed a $48.5 million, two-year deal. The contract, widely derided as the worst in the game, makes Bryant nearly impossible to move, even were the Lakers to try. Asked about Kobe’s value on the market, one GM answers definitively: ‘Zero. Look at that number. Who takes him?’

The words carry more of shock value than any actual surprise.

Many dubbed Bryant’s extension an overpay at the time he signed it, and that was before injuries limited him to six games for the entire 2013-14 campaign. Even those who supported the deal saw it as something of a lifetime achievement award, handed over more for what he had done in the past than what he could do in the present or the future.

“Is Kobe worth $48 million over the next two seasons? Probably not,” wrote USA Today‘s Sean Highkin. ”But will he have been worth $328 million over the last 20? Absolutely.”

Obviously, that logic doesn’t work for the other 29 teams in the league.

If they brought in Bryant, they would only get the high-risk, high-priced years at the end of his career. Only the Lakers can fully reap the rewards of what he has sown, whether in the form of the championship banners he helped raise or the jerseys he continues to sell.

Whatever his value is around the league, it isn’t nearly as much as it is in L.A. Put the focus on his present, and he’s a 36-year-old with injury questions, an attitude that doesn’t work with everyone and a heavy salary coming his way during each of the next two seasons.

All of that said, it’s hard to imagine that he would be completely impossible to move should the Lakers ever decide to pursue that path. As NBC Sports’ Brett Pollakoff observed, history has seen worse contracts exchanged on the open market:

There have been plenty of contracts far worse than Bryant’s that have been traded over the years (the Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas deal comes to mind), and when you consider that Bryant’s is a deal that expires after next season, which would be of value to a team trying to rebuild by clearing space on the roster, it’s certainly not impossible to envision.

It is, however, impossible to imagine Bryant or the Lakers examining that option.

His extension was made to guarantee his legacy as a one-franchise talent. It doesn’t matter what his trade value is, because he isn’t going anywhere until he’s leaving the game for good.


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