So why aren’t we talking more about the legendary shooting guard when it comes to the league’s MVP award?
Quite frankly, his team has stunk it up, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ record is what’s preventing him from competing for the award in 2013.
According to NBA.com, Bryant is just fifth on the "Race to the MVP Ladder." LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony occupy the first four spots. Not coincidentally, they’re all on top-tier teams in their respective conferences.
From a historical standpoint, you have to find team success to make a run at the Most Valuable Player award. Even Mike D’Antoni recognizes this, stating, “I don’t think you can put anybody at MVP when you’re below .500. That just doesn’t work,” (according to Mark Medina of insidesocal.com).
The new-look Lakers have yet to prove that they are better than a .500 team, as their 15-20 record isn’t impressing anybody.
If you put the team aside, and you just look at Bryant, his numbers alone are worthy of MVP consideration.
He is leading the league in scoring at 30.2 points per contest, his all-around game is still strong—he’s pulling down 5.2 rebounds and recording 4.8 assists—and despite his willingness to continually hoist shots, he’s shooting better percentages than he has throughout his illustrious career.
Bryant is still as hungry as ever, and he’ shown it in every minute he’s played throughout the 2012-13 season.
But as we all know, an MVP simply can’t play on a bad team, and even Magic Johnson recognizes that notion.
So the question here becomes: What if the Lakers are able to turn things around?
If Los Angeles is able to make a run at the playoffs and push for home-court advantage, the easy assumption is that Bryant will be back in the MVP race. He’s been the best player on a talented team, and in the eyes of many, that will be good enough to justify votes.
Does an NBA MVP have to play for an elite team?
However, when it comes to an award that tries to evaluate a player’s “value” to his team—not how outstanding he’s been—it’s going to be tough to argue in the 2-guard’s favor.
Despite how well Bryant has played, his team has been completely disappointing with him leading the way. He hasn’t been able to lift the Lakers to success, and while you can’t blame him for their downfall, there’s no denying he hasn’t resurrected their playoff chances on his own.
If the team somehow finds its identity—and more importantly, starts winning games—around the same time Dwight Howard truly becomes his old self, the question becomes, which player deserves more credit?
This is a problem that Lakers Nation would love to have, though, because the truth is that they’re going to need an astonishing turn of events to even reach that debate.
Whatever it is that’s keeping Los Angeles from putting it all together, it’s also what's preventing Bryant from officially entering the discussion as the NBA’s most valuable player.
The MVP award may be the league’s most prestigious individual achievement, but history has spoken, and Bryant simply isn’t in the running without the Lakers becoming contenders in a tough Western Conference.
*All statistics and standings are accurate as of Jan. 10, 2013, at midnight ET.