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Kobe Bryant's Inability to Play with Olympic Teammates Previews Season to Come

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 12:  Kobe Bryant #10 (L) of the US Men's Senior National Team looks to get around Gerardo Suero #7 of the Dominican Republic during a pre-Olympic exhibition game at Thomas & Mack Center on July 12, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The United States won 113-59.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
David Becker/Getty Images

An underlying subplot of Team USA's exhibition season has been the curious play of Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant.

After being the unquestioned team leader during the United States' gold medal run in Beijing, Bryant has seen his play subdued to say the least in the five exhibition games.

In 2008, Bryant led Team USA by taking 104 shots in the team's eight gamesโ€”21 more than second-place LeBron James.

During the 2012 exhibition season, Bryant came in a shocking fifth with just seven shots a game (35 total), including an inexplicable three-shot performance in Team USA's battle with Spain.

From the outsider's perspective, it could look like Bryant has finally settled into taking a backseat approach. That he recognizes LeBron James and Kevin Durant are Team USA's best chances to win gold and he's satisfied with a secondary role. That Kobe Bean Bryant is draping the flag over the stat sheet and is just one of the guys this time around.

Spoiler alert: That's not likely.

No one can erase 16 years of NBA DNA overnight. Not even the magnificent Kobe Bryant.

It's far more likely that Bryant was using Team USA's exhibition season as his own personal experiment.

You see, signing Steve Nash means next season will be the first in well over a decade where Bryant won't be L.A.'s primary ball-handler.

The triangle offense which Bryant ran for 11 years under Phil Jackson (and even the offenses under Rudy Tomjanovich and Mike Brown) simply used the point guard as a vessel to get the ball up the court. Once past midcourt, the ball nearly always went directly into Kobe's hands. Bryant would then either set his post players up in an isolation set, find a roaming gunner for three or take the ball himself.

But the offense almost always ran through Kobe.

Nash hitting his apex of effectiveness for the Lakers likely means the days of Kobe Bryant at pseudo point guard are over.

He will have to re-learn how to come off down screens and knock down catch-and-shoot opportunities. Bryant will have to move without the ball to help create spacing. And he'll have to cut down on his patented top-key isolation turnaround jumpers.

Bryant will essentially become the player we've seen thus far for Team USA. And the results thus far have been a mixed bag to put it kindly.

No one expected Bryant to turn into apex Ray Allen overnight. The transition will be an arduous process for Kobe, especially at this point in his career. Bryant turns 34 on August 23 and is coming off two straight seasons with a usage rate of over 35.

Changing his routine is the cliched "old dogs, new tricks" routine.

The roughest of patches of the new era will likely happen during the start of the regular season, when Laker fans' delusion of a Western Conference cakewalk will come crashing down.

As the season progresses, Bryant's comfort level with the ball-handling pecking order should improve and so should the Lakers as a whole. There has never been an "old dog" more willing to learn new tricks than Bryant, so we know he'll put in the necessary time to make it work with Nash.

But there is an outside shot that a Nash/Bryant pairing is simply doomed from the get go. That one future Hall of Famer will constantly be rendered useless by the other. That they're just too old to change.

Just know that Team USA Kobe will be a massive indication of how well Laker Kobe makes the adjustment.

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