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L.A. Lakers Still Need to Be Kobe Bryant's Team, Not a Collection of Equals

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L.A. Lakers Still Need to Be Kobe Bryant's Team, Not a Collection of Equals
USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant is the Los Angeles Lakers. The rest of the team, superstars included, are his minions.

Or at least, that's the motif this household-name party in Hollywood must assume from now on.

To answer your question, I'm not kidding. I'm as serious as the death stare Kobe himself gave Mike Brown less than two months ago.

Dwight Howard commands a lot of attention, Pau Gasol is back and Steve Nash is about to follow, but the Lakers aren't a convocation of equals. Not as long as Bryant is donning purple and gold.

I won't go as far to compare Los Angeles' offensive regime to a dictatorship. It's just the opposite actually. Mike D'Antoni's uptempo system is democratic, predicated on selfless ball-movment and a green light to hoist up any shot you deem a good one.

But for the sake of this team, the Lakers must exercise their democratic right and elect to put the ball in Bryant's hands. Because that's how they're going to win.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers still need to be Kobe's team.

I'm not saying we must disregard the gravity of Nash's return, because we shouldn't. He stands to transform this team into the powerhouse it was supposed to be—by riding the coattails of Bryant.

Kobe is the lone member of the Lakers who is having a career year. He's averaging 29.5 points per game, four points above his career-mark, and is shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three, both career-highs.

That's nothing short of incredible. It's also nothing short of the reason why the Lakers are riding a tumultuous three-game winning streak.

Don't pay attention to Los Angeles' 4-11 record when Bryant scores 30-plus points. Chastising him for scoring within that stretch doesn't make much sense, because he was and remains the only consistent scorer this team has.

And the Lakers shouldn't shy away from that notion; they should embrace it. Even when Nash comes back.

Take Los Angeles' near-loss at the hands of the docile Charlotte Bobcats, who had lost 11 consecutive games going in. The Lakers nearly lost that game, but didn't.

Why?

Because, as Sandy Boren of The Washington Post notes, Bryant wouldn't let them:

The one constant has been Kobe Bryant, who finished with 30 points, the seventh consecutive game in which he has had at least 30. Over that span, the Lakers are 3-4.

“We managed to stick together. We could have folded, but we didn’t,” Bryant said. “We stayed together and played hard.”

As kind as Kobe was to compliment the work ethic of his teammates, let's not pretend he wasn't the driving force behind Los Angeles' narrow escape.

Do the Lakers emerge victorious without Bryant expending 43-plus minutes of energy? Do they win if he doesn't take those 24 shots? Or do they win if he doesn't score nearly double what everyone else on his team did?

No, they don't.

Kobe has done everything he can this season.

Sure, there will be nights when Kobe scores in excess and the Lakers lose. There will even be nights where he barely touches the ball and they win. But for them to win consistently, for them to become the dominant force we all pegged them to be merely months ago, this team has to remain Bryant's.

Right now, the Lakers are shrouded in ambiguity. The ambivalence that haunts their future—that is, Gasol's progress, Howard's back and Nash's leg—is suffocating. But amidst all that uncertainty, there is the definitiveness of Bryant.

It is his conviction that has carried the Los Angeles franchise to five NBA titles. And it is his fearlessness that has kept the "never say die" mantra in Tinseltown alive even in the darkest of hours.

So why, all of a sudden, should the Lakers be worried about balancing their offense? Why should they be concerned with establishing an equilibrium of roles?

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Kobe is the Lakers most indispensable player.

Simply put, they shouldn't.

Not when injuries have sidelined and hindered a Nash, a Gasol and a Howard, but not a Bryant.

Should the Lakers still be considered Kobe's team?

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Not when Los Angeles' offense scores 13.1 points per 100 possessions fewer with him off the floor.

And certainly not when Bryant has been the only continuous source of relief, the one who has proved to have the superior will necessary to carry this team.

The one who has always been the face of this team—an actuality that should remain unwavering.

Regardless of who his teammates are.

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of December 19, 2012.

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