Similar to his All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team honors, it would be extremely easy to just throw an A+ at Kobe Bryant based on reputation alone. There’s no denying that without Kobe Bryant the Lakers are not even close to a playoff powerhouse, let alone the league’s two-time defending champions.
This year, however, Bryant saw his numbers take a dip from seasons past, forcing fans to come to the realization that he’s not going to be the Lakers’ alpha dog forever. As hard as it is to believe, this season gave recognizable life to the notion that there will be a day when Kobe Bryant is no more.
While that was widely apparent this season, that’s not to say that Bryant had a bad or terrible 2010-11 campaign. Playing injured for essentially the entire season without missing a single game gave even more backing to Bryant’s legacy as one of the league’s greatest players of all time.
However, his presence in each of the Lakers’ 82 regular season games this year came at a cost. Bryant was frequently absent during team practices, and the lack of consistency and continuity during practice created by that undoubtedly effected the Lakers during their games throughout the year. While the Lakers complacent attitude is by no means Bryant’s fault – he is one of the hungriest and most competitive players in sports history – his lack of presence during practice surely had an adverse effect on the Lakers in that area.
Bryant’s 25.3 PPG this season was his lowest output since 2003-04, when the Lakers sported four future Hall of Famers on their roster (Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton). However, his assist, rebound, steal and shooting percentage numbers were right on par with his career average in those categories, so he didn’t hit too steep of a decline.
Scoring 2,000+ points for the fifth time in his last six seasons, Bryant climbed the ladder of the NBA’s all time leading scorers, and currently resides as the sixth highest scorer in NBA history with 27,868 career points. He trails only Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the top spot, and assuming he plays two to three more years at this level, he’ll surely make a run for the No. 1 spot before he retires.
As stated before, it would be easy to just slap an “A+” on Bryant’s report card and call it a day, but is that truly fair? Taking into consideration, Bryant’s undying competitive drive in spite of injuries, paired with his ability to guide the Lakers through a roller coaster season, a grade of “exceeds expectations” is only fitting for the future hall of famer. Therefore, for 2010-11 Bryant receives an A- for his performance and contributions to the Lakers. It obviously wasn’t his best season as a member of the Lakers, but without him, the Purple and Gold would not have even come close to the second round of the playoffs.
While his window of league domination is quickly narrowing, Bryant’s future is still bright. Barring injury, he still has at least two, maybe even three or four seasons of quality basketball ahead of him. He maintains his body better than anyone in sports today, and even though he be an aged 33 years old heading into next season – there are only a few players in the league that I would put my money on, following an exit like the Lakers had last week, to come back and restore order in Hollywood quite like Kobe will.
With the extra time, expect a classic Kobe Bryant summer, in which he will return to the court next season stronger than ever, looking to add the highly-coveted sixth NBA championship to his resume. It will be difficult, but just like there will never be another Michael Jordan, there will never be another Kobe Bryant.[phpbay]Los Angeles Lakers, 3, “”, “”[/phpbay]