Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have all missed time due to injury, and the team underwent a coaching change just five games into the season.
Mike Brown's club never got off the ground, and Mike D'Antoni's club took longer to jell than anyone expected.
Consequently, Bryant has shouldered a wide variety of responsibilities both on and off the court. He's gone through a number of phases and worn a variety of hats.
The "Death Stare": Nov. 7, 2012
Mike Brown's autumn leadership was short-lived, as his Princeton offense failed and the Lakers looked nothing like a playoff team.
L.A. brass' patience was thin to begin with, and it showed Brown the door after five games.
Bryant dismissed the "Death Stare" as nothing, but his eye contact and body language toward Brown that night suggest that something mattered very much to him.
No matter how significant or insignificant that five-second stare was to Bryant and Brown, it will always be a symbol of Brown's demise and the mess that was the first two weeks of the season.
The Motivator: Nov. 11, 2012 to Dec. 2, 2012
Kobe is always a motivator, but there was a stretch in 2012 when he exerted an extra amount of energy trying to rally his injury-plagued team.
From early November to early December, the Lakers worked to adjust from Mike Brown to Bernie Bickerstaff to Mike D'Antoni. Injury had sidelined Steve Nash, and the team's situation was perilously fragile.
Therefore, Kobe was even more of a leader than he usually is.
Dwight Howard wasn't the only target of the Mamba's motivational exertion, but he was the focal point early in the season. After a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings, Kobe explained to reporters that he asked more of Dwight, even on a night the big man grabbed 18 rebounds:
He'll have games like this. I mean, this is what he does. I was pretty upset at him, though, because he kind of let a couple of rebounds go at the start of the game. I had an opportunity to get them, but I thought he was. And I told him: "Those are yours. That's what you do. You don't want to have a game where you finish 18 or 19 rebounds and it could have been 20." It should have been a 23-20 night for him.
Bryant also told Stephen A. Smith it was his responsibility to challenge Howard to become a better free-throw shooter for the sake of the team.
At a Nov. 29 practice, Bryant was particularly demonstrative in his motivation, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
It wasn't a long rant, maybe half a minute, but he left practice in a hurry, stalking off the court toward the end of it, irritated that the first team had lost to the reserves several times. He knocked some items off a table at midcourt on his way to the locker room and did not talk to reporters who were let in after his outburst.
As for underachieving power forward Pau Gasol, Kobe made it clear that he has no qualms about challenging him.
Put your big-boy pants on. Just adjust. Just adjust. You can't whine about it. You can't complain about it.
Kobe continues to be a motivator for his comrades, but November and December saw an extra amount of encouragement and criticism from the Black Mamba.
The "I'll Do It Myself" Scorer: Dec. 4, 2012 to Jan. 4, 2013
For a month, Bryant turned back the clock and took matters into his own hands. He became the ball-dominating lethal scorer Laker fans have enjoyed many times during his career.
In a Dec. 4 loss to the Houston Rockets, Kobe eclipsed 30 shot attempts for the first time in 2012-13. It began a barrage that supplied 33.8 points per game in December and no less than 27 in any single game.
The approach yielded mixed results, as the month included a four-game losing streak and a five-game winning streak. His highest-scoring game during that stretch was a 42-point effort on 16-of-28 shooting, but it came in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What's most impressive about Kobe's month-long scoring binge is he averaged more than 25 shots per game and still shot 47 percent from the field.
Unfortunately, Los Angeles wasn't making up any ground in its hunt for the playoffs. Bryant's role needed to change.
The Facilitator: Jan. 25, 2013 to February 1, 2013
After his scoring waned through mid-December, Kobe decided to channel his inner Magic Johnson and become a distributor. Nash's point guard skills took a backseat to Kobe's playmaking ability, and the result was an exciting stint for Lakers fans.
We knew he was a good passer when he wanted to be, but I doubt anyone knew Kobe could do what he did in three straight games on Jan. 25, 27 and 29. He piled up 39 assists in the three games, the most he's ever registered in a three-game span
He had this to say after dropping 14 dimes on the Utah Jazz:
Kobe Bryant @kobebryant
Whatever it takes. 14 assist. 10 reb or 40 points. Gotta get it done by any means necessary #countonnoexcuses1/26/2013, 10:02:26 AM
It was a big statement that all three games resulted in victories, including a huge home triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But he wasn't done dishing for good.
Wearing Both Hats—The Scorer and Facilitator: Feb. 8, 2013 to Present
When his assist parade cooled down, Kobe took a few games to figure out how to sustain success for himself and the team.
Since then, he's had a bunch of games featuring a high number of shots and assists.
From mid-February onward, Bryant has posted six games of at least 20 points and eight assists.
None were more impressive than his back-to-back outings of 40-plus points and 12 dimes (the first time a Laker has dropped 40 and 10 in consecutive games since Jerry West).
When Kobe serves as a facilitator and scorer simultaneously, the Lakers are potent. This new approach reignited the offense and brought the club back above .500, and the Lakers are currently tied with the Jazz for the coveted No. 8 seed.
It works because Nash is a great off-ball shooter, and the defense has to work much harder to guard both the perimeter and the paint at the same time. If the Lakers figure out how to stop teams, their newfound dynamic offense will take care of the rest.
Bryant's many roles in 2012-13 are a manifestation of his unquenchable thirst for success. He tailors his methods on and off the court to what he believes the team needs most. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and most of the time it's absolutely fascinating to watch.
It shows that fans and media were all wrong in questioning whether the Lakers were still "Kobe's team." We were even more wrong to try to put a finger on what Bryant and the Lakers can and cannot do.
Yes, he's 34, but it's Kobe's version of 34. By now, we should know that his version of anything is better than anyone else's.
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