Must lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship at the age of 33; with knee and finger questions; during a compacted, lockout-shortened season; with Mike Brown and a new coaching staff instead of Phil Jackson; with a roster that’s short one Lamar Odom; with Andrew Bynum suspended for the first five games; with Chris Paul — the friend you thought you’d be playing alongside in a spectacular backcourt — playing instead for the Clippers; while you’re going through a divorce.
Maybe it’s fitting that while Kobe is about to embark on this assignment, the new “Mission: Impossible” film is coming out, which should probably be titled “Mission: Impossible, Although It’s Not Nearly As Difficult As What Kobe’s Got Going On.”
NBA season preview
PBT: A capsulated season preview and prediction for each of the NBA's 30 teams.
This season might be the sternest test in the career of this future Hall of Famer, and that’s saying something. Remember the mess he got into in Colorado? The turmoil with Shaq? The early battles with the Zen Master? The trade-demand campaign? The Game 6 humiliation against the Celtics in ’08? Having to share the basketball with Smush Parker?
On the plus side, Bryant is one of the few humans on the planet who might be up to the task, because he’s been through all that aforementioned stuff. To quote Pat Riley, who borrowed from Friedrich Nietzsche, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” Of course, the jury’s still out on whether playing a jam-packed 66-game season with this current roster will indeed destroy him and everyone in Laker Nation.
One of Kobe’s key tasks is to get in the ear of Pau Gasol. He loves the big Spaniard. But Gasol was anemic at the end of last season (in fairness, all the Lakers were). And Gasol was packaged in the original deal with New Orleans for Paul, which was killed by David Stern.
That debacle messed so badly with the head of Odom that he demanded a trade, and got one to Dallas. It had to have messed with Gasol’s, too, although he’s much more even keel in public. Kobe has to get Gasol to forget all that, to play with rage, and to be the star of the frontcourt.
Kobe has to remind Bynum that his defensive prowess is needed more than ever, now that the Lakers are down one big man with Odom gone.
There are other concerns for the Lakers’ superstar. He’s had various ailments involving his knees and fingers, and he attacks the basket far less frequently. The Lakers need his scoring, but they also need him to be smarter when it comes to shot selection, simply because other teams have gotten stronger, the Lakers have become slightly weaker, and the margin of error is slimmer.
PBT: In a series featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, unheralded Danny Green may be the Finals MVP.
PBT: Manu Ginobili erupted for 24 points in Game 5 to lift San Antonio past Miami 114-104. The Spurs lead the NBA Finals 3-2.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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