Despite his age and the wear and tear on his body, Kobe Bryant has been the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Lakers' last five championship runs and is essential in transitioning the Lakers back to prominence.
Bryant isn't the overwhelming dominant offensive and defensive threat he used to be.
While his averages of 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and six assists in 38.6 minutes per game this season are right where his career averages have been for the entirety of his career, he took a pretty significant step back on the defensive end in terms of consistency.
Bryant simply can't exert an equal amount of effort and production on both ends of the court like he used to.
If he is tasked with locking down his man, his offense will have to suffer. Subsequently, an emphasis on scoring would mean that his defensive intensity would lessen to accommodate for his scoring.
With that being said, Bryant is still an essential part of any Lakers resurgence because he keeps the players on the team composed, focused and determined.
While this may be grating on players like Dwight Howard, who aren't used to his overbearing will and intensity, there is no questioning the fact that he leads by example and is one of the most obsessive workaholics in the league.
Without Bryant, the Lakers failed to keep composed against the Spurs. While they were competitive against the Spurs for portions of each of the four losses, they could not sustain the intensity or the focus because they were being led by players who could not command and sustain it.
Howard may be a talented and skilled player, but he is no leader. With an inconsistent temperament and his recent history of indecision, Howard isn't the locker room leader the Lakers need.
Gasol may be a skilled post player and a versatile creator, but his reputation for being soft and folding under pressure was mitigated when fueled by Bryant's encouragement and support.
While Steve Nash had both the intangibles and the offensive skills to be a leader back in his Phoenix days, he is too beaten up and aged to be that leader for the Lakers going forward.
Too often, the Lakers made silly turnovers and took errant jump shots instead of pounding the paint and attacking the post, something Bryant knew to take advantage of.
Although Bryant may dominate the ball and take his share of errant shots, his will and his ability to perform on an elite level in the clutch is a representation of the will the Lakers need to keep from slipping into obscurity.
Without a proven leader to take the reins and lead the Lakers into the next era, the Lakers will need Bryant to keep the ship afloat while Jim Buss restructures this team into the Lakers' next era of basketball.