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Will Kobe Bryant Fit in with the "New" Lakers?

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IFebruary 17, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 14:  NBA player Kobe Bryant during the NBA All-Star Game held at Cowboys Stadium on February 14, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Okay, so they're not really new.  Mitch Kupchak hasn’t pulled the trigger on any trades thus far.  Maybe I should have called them the "new look" Lakers.

However, one thing is for certain: They are a completely different team without Kobe Bryant and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Bynum.

Before the All-Star break, the Lakers played three games some might have expected them to lose without the two. They went into Portland with a nine-game losing streak at the Rose Garden, not having won there since 2006.

No problem. The Lakers came away with a 99-82 victory.

Just before the break, they traveled to Utah to play the red hot Jazz who carried a nine-game winning streak into the contest. The Lakers had previously lost seven of their last 10 games there.

No problem.  The Lakers whipped the Jazz to the tune of 96-81.

Sandwiched between those two games was a match at Staples Center against their Western Conference rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, who were playing healthy and at full strength.

No problem.  The Lakers unsaddled the Spurs 101-89.

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All three games against tough Western Conference foes, and despite playing without Bryant or Bynum, the Lakers won each one by double-digits while also holding their opponents under 90 points.

Needless to say, with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom playing with a vengeance, the Lakers played their three best defensive games of season, if not their three best all-around team performances.

In fact, they were so good that a number of fans called sports radio talk shows or commented on local blogs to propose the idea of going the rest of the way without Bryant.

A trade? Out of the question. Bryant is arguably the greatest NBA player of the past decade. You don’t just cast him aside in favor of Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar.

The recent performance of these new look Lakers still begs this question: How will Kobe Bryant fit in once he returns?

Will the defensive intensity continue?  Will the offensive playmaking continue as well?

No doubt, adjustments will be needed. Bryant said as much in a recent interview.  He knows that he needs to return with a new attitude toward his teammates.  He can no longer put this team on his shoulders, nor does he need to.

He also needs to dial down that hardcore competitiveness that might sometimes make his own teammates uncomfortable.  For example, Sasha Vujacic seemed to be much looser without the pressure of Bryant’s intimidating scowl focusing on his every move. 

On the other hand, the Lakers will need to make adjustments for Bryant as well. Reserves like Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom must continue playing with the same intensity off the bench as they have recently in the starting lineup.

Finally, all of them just need to trust one another. If Bryant is having a cold shooting game, another player has to compensate.  They need to go with the hot hand whether it's Bryant’s or not.  They can’t keep feeding Bryant the ball in hopes that he'll get hot.

This still may be hard to do. It worked last year, but this year is a different game. The rest of the NBA has gotten stronger. With teams also trading stars to get more cap room in anticipation of next year's free agent class, the strong have only gotten stronger.

Still, none will be as strong as the Lakers if Bryant and his teammates create the perfect fit. The question is, can they?

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