Even the superhuman can find a few cracks in their armor.
As the 2012-13 NBA regular season approaches, Kobe Bryant is preparing to enter his 17th year in the league. Still performing at a Hall of Fame caliber level, Bryant will lead a team of superstars in their pursuit of the Los Angeles Lakers' 17th NBA championship as a franchise.
Unfortunately, those dreams will be placed on a temporary hold as all of Los Angeles holds their breath.
Per a report via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Bryant is nursing a strained shoulder and missed the Lakers' preseason showdown with the Portland Trail Blazers. This is just the latest injury that Bryant will be fighting through.
As all who are familiar with Kobe's career know, an injury like this won't stop the five-time NBA champion from playing come the regular and postseason. In fact, Bryant may still play if the shoulder was entirely dislodged.
"I just need to rest it. I should be fine...Last night it was very painful...It hurt to even lay down, [Kobe] Bryant said. But it's a lot better right now...I don't need [surgery]; it's not that serious."
As previously alluded to, Bryant has always been nursing an injury on some part of his body throughout the duration of his 16-year career. Year 17 appears to be no different in terms of fighting off a laundry list of ailments, but there will be one discrepancy from years past.
No longer is Bryant a young man by league standards. In fact, he is a very old 34 due to the unbelievable length of his NBA tenure.
For that reason, the Lakers must be cautious with the Black Mamba moving forward.
Watching Derrick Rose Fall
No matter how much hype the Los Angeles Lakers' star-studded core is receiving, no story has been more publicized than the road to recovery for Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls.
After rushing his recovery from minor injuries throughout the regular season, Rose hit his breaking point during Game 1 of the Bulls' postseason series with the Philadelphia 76ers. The 2011 MVP tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the postseason.
Now, D-Rose is in danger of missing the entire 2012-13 NBA season.
With this image freshly imprinted in the minds of millions, it is imperative that the Lakers allow Kobe Bryant to reach 100 percent. With such an extensive history of injuries and virtually no time spent on the sideline, Bryant is the furthest thing from healthy.
No matter how powerful his warrior's spirit may be, he must rest. If he does not, a fate similar to D-Rose's becomes a legitimate threat and the Lakers chances take a severe hit.
Losing Your Leader
Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have all led teams to the postseason on their own. What they have not done, however, is take the reins and lead their previous franchises to an NBA Championship.
During Gasol's two title wins, the balance of power took a steep shift to the side of Kobe Bryant.
Although Bryant is more than capable of verbalizing his leadership from the sidelines, he is much more effective on the court. Not only is Bryant one of the game's all-time greatest clutch shooters, but he has proven over the years that he knows when to make the extra pass.
Although Steve Nash can claim the same, we've never seen the former Phoenix Sun do so on a grand stage. His four Western Conference Finals appearances are just as impressive as his inability to make the NBA Finals.
Let's not forget one important fact.
Dwight Howard lost his only NBA Finals appearance to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Steve Nash won two first round match-ups against Kobe and the Lake Show, but lost in their only Western Conference Finals battle.
Kobe Bryant knows how to win. Without him on the floor, all the Lakers have are a group of elite players that are unproven in their ability to take home the gold. Promising but no longer a necessary favorite when Jodie Meeks is in the starting lineup.
Pau Gasol's average of 12.8 points over his past 22 postseason appearances certainly doesn't breathe life into his claim for legitimacy, either.
Kobe + Elite Center = Championship
If there is one formula that the Lakers know to follow, it is the following: Kobe Bryant plus an elite center equals an NBA championship. Three rings with Shaquille O'Neal and another two with a budding Andrew Bynum speak for themselves.
For that reason, the Lakers cannot risk losing the most dominant high-low paper tandem in the NBA before the postseason even begins.
Both Kobe and Dwight Howard are matchup nightmares for whomever is tasked with defending them. They're also excellent defenders, which is proven by their combined 17 NBA All-Defensive team selections.
Bryant has 12 of those appearances, for those who are counting.
Although Lakers fans and organization members would love to witness the birth of this pairing sooner rather than later, patience is key. Keep in mind, both Howard and Bryant are in the process of recovering from injuries.
Howard is coming off of back surgery, while Bryant's shoulder joins a bum knee that has been bothering him for a half decade. To cancel out the limitless possibilities of this pairing by failing to take the proper precautions would make for one of the greatest disasters in NBA history.
Before they allow this to happen, head coach Mike Brown must step up and both monitor and limit Kobe Bryant's minutes and regular season appearances. Otherwise, a promising season could be lost in Los Angeles.