How Far Can Kobe Bryant Carry the Los Angeles Lakers?

Mark EvansCorrespondent IIIJanuary 14, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 10:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakerssits on the bench during pregame introductions before the game with the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on January 10, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

At 33 years old, Kobe Bryant has a lot of basketball mileage on his legs. He has played more than 1,100 regular season games and counting, as well as an additional 208 playoff games.

It wasn't too long ago that his Lakers got bounced from the playoffs by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. When I say bounced, I really should say embarrassed.

Since then, Chris Paul was supposed to be a Laker until David Stern decided otherwise. It was also widely believed that Dwight Howard would find himself in LA. That hasn't happened yet. And Lamar Odom was shipped out of town for a draft pick.

Notable additions? Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono.

And the other team in Los Angeles, the Clippers, ended up getting Chris Paul to go along with Blake Griffin.

It looks like after five championships, it's time for Kobe Bryant to ride off into the sunset after an unbelievable career. Right?

Nope. Far from it. Anyone who has seen this man play this season knows that he is on a mission.

This is not a deep team at all, it's very top-heavy. Bryant, Bynum and Gasol are all excellent players. After that, this team runs very thin.

I respect Derek Fisher too much to say he's washed up, but his best days are certainly behind him. Steve Blake is, well, Steve Blake. Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts are all OK, but they're not really game changers; not the way Lamar Odom was at least.

In addition, Kobe has been receiving pain-killing injections for his wrist prior to every game. But that can't stop the Black Mamba. He is averaging more than 31 points per game so far this year and has willed his team to a 9-4 record when many people were writing them off.

In his older years, Kobe has built a game that he can succeed at for a few more years. He now depends less on his freakish athleticism and ability to get to the rim.

Bryant has a post-up game that is deadly, where he can either score or create easy scoring opportunities for his teammates off double-teams. His mid-range jumper is also deadly. And he still has that killer instinct that has made him one of the best to ever play the game.

So if anyone wants to write off Kobe and the Lakers, go ahead. It will be tough for them to win the West, that's for sure. In fact, I wouldn't even bet on them to do so.

But when you have Kobe Bryant on your team, you can beat anyone on a nightly basis. And he knows that.

Follow me on Twitter