If Pau Gasol was going to be out longer, there is a good chance Kobe would have run away with the MVP by the All-Star break.
Bryant has already scored 40 points four times in his first 11 games, matching the number of times he did it all last season, and the Lakers went undefeated in those game this year.
In fact, Bryant's three lowest scoring nights (18, 19, and 20) mark the Lakers three loses on the year—remember when people though he should score less for LA to win more?
Currently the Lakers rest 1/2 game behind Phoenix, but my money says they surpass the Suns in the rankings over the next few weeks and won't give up their lead on the West from there.
Now that Gasol is back, and Bynum is playing so well, I'm not sure if Kobe will have the stats he needs throughout the year to win the MVP, but he is looking better than ever right now—posting a better MVPi than when he won the award in 2008.