Name: Kobe Bryant
Season: 19th season (all with Lakers)
Role: Leading scorer, playmaker, scowl-connoisseur.
The Good: Bryant is one of the most fundamentally sound players in NBA history. What he’ll inevitably lack in athleticism, he’ll make up for in anchoring the Lakers’ offense, whether shooting or passing. Besides Lin, Bryant is the team’s only viable playmaker, and his low-post repertoire will be an added dimension. He’ll certainly need time to adjust to new legs, teammates, and structure, but once he does, Bryant will inevitably be an upgrade for a Lakers team that relied on Jodie Meeks last season.
Lakers season preview
Kobe returns one last time
Kobe Bryant is back, and that's what matters. Forget about the future and enjoy what one of the greats has left to offer.
Lakers season preview
The Bad: 36-year-old shooting guards coming off a ruptured Achilles and broken kneecap don’t make many comebacks, so there is no precedent for Bryant’s return. But there is reason for concern, even if he’s an improved version of his 2013-14 self. Before his Achilles rupture, Bryan’s defense had already experienced noticeable decline. He often roamed around off the ball, and it’s fair to expect of the same as he ages. Given his $23.5 million salary, Bryant will enter his comeback season with skeptics poised to dissect his every blown assignment, missed shot, and lost game, ultimately crediting him with another lost Lakers season.
The Could-Be: It’s highly unlikely Bryant returns to averaging 30 points per game a night, but that’s not all he needs to enjoy a return reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins’ 1993-94 campaign. Returning from an Achilles injury is no joke, and Bryant has rehabbed vigorously to leave the game on his own terms. Should everything go as hoped, the Mamba will develop acute chemistry with capable floor-spacers (Nick Young, Ryan Kelly), athletic slashers (Jeremy Lin, Wesley Johnson), and athletic, low-maintenance big men (Julius Randle, Jordan Hill). Assuming the injury bug has been left in yesteryear, the Lakers could make good on Bryant’s threat to "shock a lot of people." Fingers crossed.
The Hope Not: The team’s middling stature could (and likely will) bring out the do-it-all Bryant, who, despite working himself back to reasonable form, isn’t his 2006 self anymore. If last season illustrated anything, it further demonstrated the inevitable fall of even the greatest giants. The Lakers, their reasonable collection of athleticism aside, don’t have the talent to compensate for Bryant missing extended time, or even a surplus of shots – which he’ll inevitably take. That being said, the Lakers don’t have much room for error if Bryant doesn’t at least partially validate his massive extension.
The Likely: The only inevitability with Kobe Bryant is a top-notch effort, which is why the Lakers, albeit prematurely, trusted him with $48.5 million over his final two seasons. Last season’s abbreviated return was certainly awful in its brevity and content, but everyone trusts Bryant has made good on his extended layoff, eventually granting us a few peeks into years past. His patented (MJ-copied, whatever) fadeaway will be a welcome sight, as will his next thunderous dunk, 30-point game, and, on the whole, healthy campaign. Given our pseudo-business of predicting numbers, a stat line of 22-6-5 wouldn’t surprise me.
What It Means: Making the postseason is a collective challenge for the Lakers, but adding Bryant will be a massive upgrade on the court, especially given the team’s other additions and re-signings. They wriggled to 27 wins last season, but adding Bryant, Lin, Randle, and a dose of collective health should hopefully improve the team’s record by at least eight games. It will all ultimately fall on Bryant’s knees and shoulders, though. Given the team’s myriad of issues last season, there couldn’t be a better place. Welcome back, Kobe.