It’s been one long promotional tour, parallel with his rehab, for Kobe Bryant this offseason. Coming back from his Achilles Tendon tear, and convincing everyone that he’s going to be back to his form from last season, and that it’s too soon to count out the Los Angeles Lakers, with the sixth championship ring the only thing on his mind.
It’s hard to find even the most optimistic of Lakers fans who are willing to give Bryant a chance of winning it this season. The Lakers, led by him, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, have a short, imbalanced and unimpressive looking squad. While they might not be a failure that finds itself out of the playoffs, there won’t be anything more than around 45 wins, at best, and the 8th-7th seed in the West.
Anyone thinking anything else is a bit delusional. However, players and team representatives can’t give up on a season before it starts. There are no expectations besides winning a title in Laker Land, and while Bryant knows that this season is more about keeping up appearances and showing the Lakers can be a force to be reckoned with instead of some sort of laughing stock, there’s a very long way to go between that and actually contending for the title.
The talk of the sixth ring is about the future. About the Lakers clearing their cap space except for Steve Nash when next season ends, and suddenly they become a team that easily has the cap space to bring in two max-contract free agents, although it’s not going to be easy to do. Convincing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony for example, to come over? And still play with Kobe Bryant? While paying Kobe Bryant, who has already said he doesn’t want to take too big of a paycut next summer, as he negotiates a new contract?
Things change a lot over the course of a season. Just thinking about the optimism sweeping through Southern California when the Lakers presented the lineup that included Bryant, Nash, World Peace, Gasol and Howard seems like a though from a lifetime ago, as the terrible start and firing of Mike Brown put the team in a constant turmoil of criticism, not to mention the ruptured social fabric within the team.
Bryant won’t have that problem this season – no Alpha Male to challenge his dominance, but the Lakers are a worse team than they were last season, when they barely made it into the playoffs. Truth is, that when thinking logically about it, Bryant should be worse than he was last season, even if he’s 100% healthy and free of any long-term effects last season’s injury had on him.
He’s a warrior, a fighter, a competitor, but not immortal, or perfect forever. Bryant and the Lakers did an excellent job in diverting all of the attention to the wrongs of last season to Dwight Howard, who was just a piece in the puzzle, not everything. Bryant was just as much to blame; for his ball-hogging, for his pathetic defense at times, and for not willing to change his ways.
On the team he’ll be playing for this upcoming season, the selfish Bryant might be the best thing they’ll have to offer. But it won’t make them a lucrative free agency destination a year from now, or get Bryant anywhere near a sixth NBA championship ring, he’ll probably never get to put on his finger.