Where Would the Lakers Be Without Kobe Bryant?

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Where Would the Lakers Be Without Kobe Bryant?
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The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a three-game winning streak and, amazingly, Kobe Bryant has scored at least 30 points in each of those victories.

Granted, the wins came against the likes of the Bobcats, 76ers and Wizards. But it's still remarkable because Kobe scoring more than 30 points and the Lakers winning doesn't usually fit in the same sentence.

In fact, Bryant has scored at least 30 points in the Lakers' past seven games, but they have only managed to win the last three.

Kobe is leading the league in scoring at 29.5 points per game, and shooting a career-best 47 percent from the field. But even though Bryant is having an MVP-type season, there are still those who say Kobe may be at the root of the Lakers' struggles.

Come again?

I know that Bryant has a tendency to dominate the ball, and at times he still tries to do too much on the offensive end. But after all the Lakers have gone through this season, Kobe's magnificent play would seem to be the least of their worries.

However, Chris Broussard of ESPN says that even though Bryant's numbers suggest he is having a great individual season, there are others who say Bryant is a main contributor to the Lakers' struggles.

Maybe the fact that Bryant leads the league in shot attempts from the field and still trusts himself more than his teammates has been detrimental to the Lakers this season. But has that contributed more to the Lakers' 12-14 start than injuries to Steve Nash and Pau Gasol?

Or what about the Lakers going through three coaches over the course of 26 games? I guess it doesn't matter that Dwight Howard is not fully healthy or that the team has struggled to adapt to Mike D'Antoni's scheme.

It's just much easier to blame Bryant's brilliance and go about your holiday plans.

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But in the vein of Charles Dickens's "Christmas Carol'' and the Ghost of Christmas future, where would the Lakers be without Bryant's 29.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and five assists per game?

Certainly not in the discussion as a 2012-13 NBA Finals contender.

Even at 12-14, there are few people who feel the Lakers can't turn it around once Nash makes his likely Christmas Day return and the Lakers find a consistent rhythm. But do that that, Bryant will still have to be the focal point of the offense, because no one else has earned the right.

The Lakers are expecting Howard to be more dominant offensively in the pick-and-roll with Nash, and Gasol should regain some of his confidence playing beside Nash. But what happens when the quick-strike offense slows down?

Are the Lakers a better team without Kobe?

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Is there anyone else on the roster who can consistently create his own offense besides Bryant?

And who else among the Lakers' starting five has proved they have the talent and the moxie to take the game's biggest shot when everything is on the line, and also own up to their actions, regardless of the consequences?

Nash's return may mean that Bryant gets fewer shots from the field and it could even mean the end of his bid to lead the league in scoring again at the age of 34. But the Lakers still don't have a shot at qualifying for the playoffs, much less the Finals without Bryant, and under no circumstances are they a better team without him.

Jodie Meeks can't replicate what Bryant brings in talent on the court, and he certainly can't match Kobe's leadership and experience off the court.

And those leadership qualities may be the single most important factor when it comes to turning around the Lakers'  season.

Gasol has won two rings, but he doesn't have Bryant's resolve and will. Neither does Howard nor Nash.

There may be numbers that say the Lakers are a better team when Kobe scores fewer than 30 points, but I can think of a few others that say the Lakers have no chance of winning a championship without him.

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