Kobe Bryant Return: Black Mamba Will Determine Lakers' Trade Activity

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Kobe Bryant Return: Black Mamba Will Determine Lakers' Trade Activity
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According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant participated in his first practice since tearing his Achilles tendon in April of 2013. Shelburne reports that Bryant is still far from being game ready, but this is a major step in the right direction.

Once Bryant does take the court, his instant impact will determine just how active the Lakers are on the trade market.

The Lakers are currently 4-7 with quality ball movement and little else to be encouraged by. The absence of a star scorer is apparent, and that's where Bryant fits into the equation.

It's unclear how well he'll play in 2013-14, but Bryant led all shooting guards in scoring, rebounds and assists during the 2012-13 regular season. He left no room for doubt that he's still the best player at his position, and many believe he'll reclaim that throne once he's healthy.

As a 35-year-old who tore his Achilles tendon, however, there's no guarantees to be made.

If Bryant is able to save the Lakers' season and make them a legitimate championship contender, the trade rumors will dissipate. Kobe and Pau Gasol have won two NBA championships together, and some believe that the Lakers owe it to themselves to give that duo one last chance.

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that.

Win Today or Build for Tomorrow

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If L.A. can't do this again, it may have to split the dynamic duo.

With Kobe on the roster, it's become a foregone conclusion that the Lakers are going to be a postseason team. Not only is he one of the greatest players in NBA history, but Bryant remains one of the best active forces in the NBA.

Even if Bryant returns to that level in 2013-14, there's a question that Los Angeles has to ask after the lackluster results of its past few seasons: can it win right now?

Will the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA championship in 2013-14?

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If the Lakers put a product on the court that consistently wins games and reaches the trade deadline in a position to finish with a top seed, there will be no need for a trade. Bryant is a postseason star, Pau Gasol has a glorious history on that same stage, and the Lakers have added athleticism.

If the Lakers aren't in a position to be a top-4 seed, however, the only option is to commit a trade.

Bryant and Gasol are going to be free agents this offseason. Steve Nash, meanwhile, will be 41 years old during the 2014-15 campaign. More importantly, Nash will be paid $9,300,500, which creates a pressing need for L.A. to address its current state of uncertainty.

It's no secret that the Lakers live by the motto of "championship or bust." In 2013-14, that not only defines what L.A. stands for, but what it needs to achieve to keep its current core intact.

It's on Kobe to either elevate this team to new heights or accept that it's time to move on from its current group.

Trading Stars

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Less than one month into the 2013-14 regular season, the Lakers are already at the heart of trade rumors. Both Gasol and Nash have been involved in the reports and speculation, and there's good reason to believe that one or both of those players could be dealt.

The only way to defend L.A. keeping both players in Los Angeles would be if Kobe's return led to a stretch of dominant basketball.

Which player should the Los Angeles Lakers trade?

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Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com reports that Nash could be dealt by the trade deadline. The top team emerging as a potential landing spot is the Toronto Raptors, which makes sense considering Nash is both Canadian and heavily involved in the local basketball activities.

For those unfamiliar, Nash is currently the general manager of the Canadian men's national basketball team.

Sam Smith of NBA.com reports that the Lakers are searching for compensation before Gasol becomes a free agent this summer. Gasol is 33 and continues to struggle to find his niche in Mike D'Antoni's heavily criticized system, which makes a potential trade beneficial to both parties.

The only question at this point is whether or not Bryant can make the Lakers legitimate.

This isn't to be confused with an article stating that Kobe is to blame if the Lakers can't complete a turnaround. Instead, it's to acknowledge that the only thing separating Los Angeles from the draft lottery is Bryant's potential return.

Not so coincidentally, it's also the only thing separating Los Angeles from trading away two of its most high-profile players.

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