Kobe Bryant: Is This His Best Chance for Another NBA Championship with Lakers?
Kobe Bryant has already had a legendary career.
Consider some of the achievements he has already achieved: five championships, 10 selections each to the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams, 13 All-Star selections, four All-Star MVPs, two scoring titles, two Finals MVPs and one regular season MVP award.
No other player in NBA history has achieved all of those same accomplishments.
Even at the ripe age of 32, Bryant is still playing as one of the best basketball players in the world. While he may have lost some of his athleticism from his younger days, Kobe’s knowledge of the game and fundamentals still make him a force to reckon with.
Many NBA pundits have claimed that this season may be Kobe’s best chance at another NBA championship with the Lakers. Many fans have echoed this sentiment.
After all, this is the last season that Phil Jackson will coach the Lakers. Kobe already has a lot of mileage on his legs and is only going to get older and be more prone to injuries over the next three years left on his contract.
On top of that, the other main rotation players are all in their 30s except Andrew Bynum. As has been shown many times this season, younger and more athletic teams can give the Lakers fits.
However, although it is possible that no other Lakers team with Kobe may have a good shot at an NBA title, this seems to be unlikely.
It is easy for people to become pessimists when discussing this topic.
The media likes to play up all of the drama. Reporting that everything is hunky-dory doesn’t sell nearly as well as saying that the floor is falling out from underneath the tea.
On top of that, fans in Miami, Boston, San Antonio and from every other city that hates the Lakers because of the team’s success desperately want to convince themselves that Kobe’s reign in the NBA is over. It’s more comforting to think in that manner than to admit that Kobe and the Lakers may win another championship or two.
But let’s consider the facts and possibilities.
First, much has been spoken of Kobe’s mileage, but many people conveniently forget about other players that won NBA championships well into their 30s.
Julius Erving was 33 when he won his coveted championship with the 76ers. Kevin Garnett was 32 when the Celtics won in 2008 and he will be 35 if his team wins again this season (as many think Boston may be the early favorite).
And of course, Michael Jordan was 35 when he won his sixth ring with Chicago in 1998.
One may argue that Kobe has played more games in the NBA because of skipping college.
However, Kobe didn’t put a lot of mileage on in his first two years in the NBA as he played fewer minutes. In addition, it’s not like Jordan wasn’t taking a physical toll on his body during his college playing days.
Throughout his career, Kobe Bryant has shown a remarkable ability to play injured while maintaining a legendary conditioning routine.
So in the end, all of this talk of Kobe getting too old to win more championships is misconceived and speculative at best
Other Players Too Old?
The same is true for the other core players on the Lakers. Pau Gasol, like many players at 30, is at the peak of his career. Likewise, Lamar Odom at 31 is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Andrew Bynum, who is starting to show more consistency and playing better team basketball, is only 23.
Most of the core players are under contract for another few years.
The average age of the Chicago Bulls teams of the late 1990s was older than this current core Lakers group. There is no reason to think that it is impossible for this group to win more titles due to their age.
Another main point to consider is the possibility of a major trade or signing over the next couple of years.
Although recently downplayed when questioned during the 2011 All-Star Weekend, Dwight Howard has spoke of his desire to play with the Lakers.
It seems obvious that he would like to follow in the footsteps of the franchise’s legendary centers (George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal) while adding championship banners to the Staples Center walls.
The Lakers have also been interested in Gerald Wallace. While Howard is the most dominant inside force in the NBA, Wallace is a highly underrated player, especially on the defensive end. He is an efficient player on offense and doesn’t need many plays drawn up for him to get his points.
Imagine what Kobe’s chances would be of winning an NBA title with one of those players on his side, especially if the team can keep Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
With Phil Jackson likely gone after this season, the Lakers may veer away from the triangle offense. If this becomes reality, then the team can go after dominant point guards such as Chris Paul.
Players like Paul would only make life easier for Kobe in being able to take much of the ball-handling pressure away and setting him up for easier shot attempts.
Many have spoken of Phil Jackson’s absence as the greatest challenge for Kobe to overcome during the next few years. While Jackson may be the NBA’s most decorated coach in history, it can be argued that other coaches may be successful with the team.
Jackson is among the best at pacing his teams. Yet, his inability to light a fire under the Lakers thus far may come back to haunt the team in the playoffs with a lower seed.
While Jackson is one of the best coaches at making game-to-game adjustments, he is not one of the best at making in-game adjustments. Clearly, a change of scenery in the coaching department probably won’t be disastrous and may bring some positive results for the team.
Finally, there is no guarantee that the Lakers are going to win a championship this season. If the team doesn’t win a title and a lockout occurs during the offseason, the team will have two factors swing into its favor.
First, the players will have more time to rest up before the next Finals run than any of the previous three seasons. Second, the target on the team’s back would not be as large since the Lakers would no longer be the reigning back-to-back champions.
Perhaps less pressure and more rest would be beneficial for Kobe and the Lakers.
While the Lakers should have a decent chance of successfully defending its title this season, it’s too early to assume that this is Kobe’s best chance at winning a title before he retires. There are too many unknowns and possibilities to make such a bold statement.
In the meantime, there are only a few years that some of the greatest legends will grace the NBA hard courts: players like Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash and of course Kobe Bryant. As fans of the game, isn’t it best to just appreciate these last few seasons?