Kobe Bryant is in the same place he was four years ago, before Pau Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Just ship Gasol for Lamar Odom, put in an improved Andrew Bynum and a Ron Artest/Metta World Peace who is more off than on, and it’s the same thing. Bryant isn’t the player he was then, but he can still carry the team on his back some night.

The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t where they want to be, or where they could have been with Chris Paul on the team, but they’re not the Dallas Mavericks. Two opening losses to the Bulls and Kings were quickly turned around with wins over the Utah Jazz and after a night of rest, getting a much fresher Bryant, the incompetent New York Knicks.

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One thing about the Knicks before we proceed – This team has the potential to be exciting, when both Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire have got it going on. On nights when one of them is out of his usual zone, there’s no one to fill in the points. Tyson Chandler adds certain dimensions, but 20 points a night isn’t one of the pluses he brings along. He can be a guaranteed double double, but he won’t light up the scoreboards.

Back to tinsel-town. When Andrew Bynum will be back, things will be easier on offense for the Lakers. Bryant and Pau Gasol draw too much attention, and Bryant is the only player who can create points for himself and others. Josh McRoberts has nice springs, Jason Kapono and Steve Blake can hit open threes, but that won’t do it. There isn’t one player who really disturbs the minds of other teams, and teams with more backbone the Knicks won’t let off the Lakers so easy.

Bryant wasn’t out of this world, just good, or a bit more, than expected. He scored 28 points with 10-17 from the field, his best game of the season so far. Pau Gasol added 16 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Gasol and Bryant led the Lakers in assists. Just thinking about the point guard problem, as Derek Fisher had another bad night, shooting 2-7, with 5 points. Chris Paul? Well, lets stop dwelling on that.

Bryant has steered the Los Angeles Lakers back to being a .500 team, and they’ll finish better than that. There are enough easy wins around the West and overall in the league. They may even pick up wins against the real juggernauts, not only by name. And that is what the Lakers are right now – A team in some sort of rebuilding mode or something like that, with a Kobe Bryant who has five rings and isn’t capable of taking this team on his back all season long without major help.

What he has right now, even with Andrew Bynum back in the lineup soon, isn’t enough for that sixth ring he wants so badly.