To the majority of Laker fans, there is no question that Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player in the world.
The question is how long he'll stay that way.
Bryant, 31, recently received an extension that would pay him $83.5 million over three years. The contract would expire after Bryant's 18th season, a couple of months before he turns 36. Many Laker fans are skeptical that Bryant's play will continue to warrant his astronomical salary.
Many Hall-of-Fame-caliber players before Bryant had sharply declined by that age and were no longer to carry their respective teams. Bryant's contract would leave the Lakers absolutely unable to sign a decent replacement for him should things not work out.
But that problem will never arise.
Bryant's work ethic and finesse are unparalleled in today's game. He consistently hones his game and stays in top-notch shape. Kobe has already shown that he is able to adapt to a loss in athletic ability, and he will continue to do so.
When you think of Kobe when he was paired with Shaq, you'll probably think of a speedy, athletic guard who was among the best at attacking the rim and who could knock down jumpers at an accurate percentage.
Since then, he has lost much of that athleticism, but has replaced it with a highly-developed post game and great prowess in making those around him better. He has improved his jumper even more as well as finding a way to continue to hound opponents on defense.
Kobe will not be that old during his new contract—35 is not 50.
Many before Kobe have succeeded in continuing to play at a high level at that age. Michael Jordan averaged 28.7 points and led his team to a third consecutive NBA championship at the age of 34. Reggie Miller led his team to the NBA finals at age 34 and played 39 minutes per game the season after. At age 35, Steve Nash is currently leading his team into the playoffs while averaging 11.1 assists per game.
While Kobe moves further out of his prime, younger teammates will take more of Kobe's scoring load onto themselves.
Andrew Bynum will only continue to get better and will demand more and more shots. Pau Gasol will maintain his abilities. Shannon Brown has shown that he is a capable scorer and could relieve Kobe of several minutes per game. Bryant's defensive load will be greatly reduced by Ron Artest as it already has been this season. Artest is to Bryant as Jordan is to Pippen.
Bryant has had a number of poor shooting games this season, including his last two against San Antonio and Utah, but these nights can be attributed to the avulsion fracture on his right index finger as well as general fatigue. With a summer of healing and rest, Bryant will be completely healthy for next season, and hopefully stay that way until his retirement.
It is likely that Bryant will spend more of his time in the post as Michael Jordan did. He is always looking to improve his already great footwork, as evidenced by his training with Hakeem Olajuwon this past summer. Bryant will also maintain his great shooting and passing abilities, and perhaps most importantly, his winning mentality and leadership.
Kobe is Kobe. Trust him.