Although Bryant can still hold his own against most defenses, a good defensive team can shut Bryant down. Think about the game against the Spurs. Last year, if Bryant could have runs where there wasn’t anything the opposition could do to slow him down. Against San Antonio, George Hill appeared to have found some way to prevent him from taking over the game. Hill forced him into 15-20 footers and fall-away shots. Bryant used to do a significant amount of damage at the line, but either players got smarter by not buying the head fakes or the referees aren’t making the calls they used to.
This isn’t all news to Bryant. He’s already been discussing his own mortality. Go back last year to the playoffs, during the Oklahoma City series he acknowledged that his game had diminished slightly and was having to find new ways to adapt. Credit the Thunder, who exhibited enough youth and athleticism to make a veteran team appear much older than they actually are. Regardless of his statements, Bryant went out to prove that all that the notion of him losing a step was premature. Once they drained his knee, he went off for 30-plus point nights and was playing as well as he had been during the playoffs.
A knee surgery, slew of inefficient games, everyone finally realizing that yes, in fact Bryant doesn’t practice every day and a heavy proclamation about the status of his knee later, everyone finally realizes that Bryant is still human.
At the same time, it’s very dangerous to write people off, especially a player of Bryant’s stature who’s been so good for so long. One night his shot is off, the next night he proves his critics wrong. It isn’t that I’m saying Bryant has lost his game, he hasn’t, but at what point do we all stop lying to ourselves that Bryant is indestructible.
In our own defense, perhaps it’s Bryant’s fault for spoiling us for so long by playing at a high level despite injury. He’s won two titles injury ridden. At some point this season, if all goes well, he’ll go for a third.
In theory, and lucky for Laker fans, in practice, it’s what the best player on the floor is supposed to do for his team.