Right now, Kobe Bryant is focused on winning his second gold medal and trying to convince everyone that the 2012 dream team is better than the 1992 version. A few months from now, a more important venture begins – taking the Los Angeles Lakers, with the new addition of Steve Nash, to the NBA Finals, maybe for one last time.
Bryant already has one gold medal, going now for his second. Just like Michael Jordan. It all comes down to that I guess. Because in each argument about whether it’s alright to compare Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant, regardless of the individual numbers that obviously sway toward MJ’s dominance over the years as a scorer and a player, Bryant is one NBA title away from reaching six, just like Michael.
But how close is he, really, toward winning the NBA title? The last couple of years have been bitter disappointments. Bryant keeps averaging very impressive numbers, being the go-to-guy for the Lakers as much as he wishes, putting up shots as much as he wishes, pretty much deciding the fate of games by the amount of responsibility he takes on shoulders, sometimes forgetting to balance things out. The Lakers didn’t do badly or lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder because Bryant took too many shots, but over the course of the season, there were too many times when that was the case, to a certain degree.
Now Steve Nash has arrived, and the Lakers once again have a very formidable starting five, even if Metta World Peace looked completely washed up more often than not last season. But it takes the ball out of Bryant’s hands, which should be a good thing. Nash runs the floor better than Bryant, who may be one of the greatest scorers in the history of the NBA, but at this point and stage of his career, too much control doesn’t always help his team.
So it’s a question of what Bryant is willing to give up in order to win that sixth ring. He played nearly 39 minutes a game last season. Every year, as Kobe, nearing 34, with nearly 1400 regular season and playoff games on his knees, back and the rest of his body, is supposed to be the year he declines significantly. While the numbers might not suggest it, Bryant isn’t the same player he was three years ago. It’s much harder for him to take over games, and his decision making combined with his ego sometimes makes him forget that.
But the addition of Nash doesn’t solve all the questions. How will the bench, which was a non-factor last season too many times, perform against the deeper teams in the NBA and specifically the West, with the Thunder and the Spurs looking like the favorites before the season begins? How will Metta World Peace react to a terrible season and constant trade rumors that have no ‘meat’ because no one is willing to pick up his contract?
Andrew Bynum made a meaningful stride forward last season, but showed that in terms of character and maturity, he’s still not at the level matching his basketball abilities. When will Pau Gasol be traded, or will he just keep sulking on the court and on the bench?
Bryant, as much as he’s used to being the center of attention, isn’t the key figure in the Lakers’ attempt to win another NBA title with Kobe still at the edge of his prime. It’s about the pieces around him, and how they work under a head coach that can’t touch Bryant when he’s not playing well. A sixth ring is all he’s looking for, hopefully with him being the guy getting most of the credit. Problem is that with the current squad, despite the Steve Nash upgrade, it won’t be enough.