Kobe Bryant: Will a Missed Season Affect the Black Mamba's Ending?

Joye PruittSenior Analyst ISeptember 29, 2011

DALLAS, TX - MAY 08:  Kobe Bryant #25 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 8, 2011 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The NBA lockout is creeping through the year like that stench you can barely sense, but every now and then it implodes through your nostrils. Sure, the imagery is a bit devastating on that metaphor, but I am sure you understand what I mean.

With the NFL season in full swing and college football allowing any broken hearts to temporarily mend for Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, the NBA lockout is sometimes seen as the replacement news when there are not any new developments in the NFL or MLB, which has been close to zero. Still, there is something that has consistently settled on my mind since the talks of a possible labor situation in the NBA were established a while ago.

What will a shortened season to do the veterans of the league who are seen as possibly over the hill or in their last days?

Not saying that Kobe Bryant stands at the forefront of the list of men that should consider retirement in the next season. However, chipping off months of time of professional basketball playing towards the end of his career seems like it may affect the mark he leaves on the league.

Yes, it may seem as if the gun is being jumped just a tad here. Most of you think that, with five championship rings, Bryant is sitting pretty in everyone’s minds as one of the greatest players to ever grace the big stage. Not only are his statistics encompassing, but the manner in which his career skyrocketed into legendary status within just a few years is what makes Bryant such a mesmerizing figure in the history of the league.

He is one of the top 10 scorers of all time and the past, present and future leader of one of the most polarizing franchises in the country. The Los Angeles Lakers are a brand that seems solely built around Kobe Bryant at the moment, and he seems more than comfortable with that role.

However, last season’s end brought up a lot of questions. There were so many mistakes made within the Lakers' organization that LA was knocked out of the playoffs by a Dallas Mavericks team that no one suspected would even get past the lower-seeded Portland Trailblazers.

Kobe and his squad were swept out of the seven-game series contest as the frustration in the team grew evident with a few brash and unnecessary fouls to cap off a back-and-forth 2010 season for the purple and gold.

There was no denying that this was not the same Lakers team that had succeeded in achieving championship status in the 2010 NBA Finals. While there were times last season where the Lakers seemed as if they were on track, they slid right back into a hole, which stirred up talks of possible trades and franchise restructuring.

Bryant would have been going into the 2011 season with practically a whole new staff, resting the future success of the franchise on his shoulders until they were adequately acclimated in a fresh system that would properly restore the Lakers’ good name.

Not that the “dish to Kobe” way was entirely falling flat. But it was made painfully clear in the postseason against Western Conference teams like the New Orleans Hornets and the Dallas Mavericks that him leading the team to victory entirely in his name was not a viable solution any longer. 

Coming into this year’s regular season, Kobe would have been the main man. He would be the most steady, productive and dependable member of the franchise.

Kobe is not getting any younger and with the new-age direction of the NBA moving at a rapid pace, shaving months or maybe even an entire season off of the rest of his career does not give him the opportunity to properly lift those doubts. There is a bevy of Kobe Bryant fans left in the world. Believe me. I have faced the harsh reality of their criticism time and time again. But even they cannot deny that he is aging and very soon may not be able to do what he was once able to at the level necessary to win.

The 2011 season would have been his comeback year. Yes, his numbers from the 2009 season and the 2010 season did not vary too much. On the other hand, his general influence in the big moment did. The offense can be present in as much abundance as he wishes, but there is not a doubt that he did not have the handle on either series of this year’s playoffs as he would have wished.

Someone has to lose, but no one was expecting Kobe to be tossed out of the postseason in that manner.

Now, as talks push forward of Kobe participating overseas until this season’s lockout is lifted at one point or another, his future in the NBA lies in the balance. Playing overseas would very well keep him in basketball shape. Then again, he would come back to the NBA playing as if he spent a season of his talent for 2011.

The comeback that we all expected would have been squandered overseas as Kobe Bryant’s fans would be left watching an aging superstar who slipped out of his prime.