Can Kobe Bryant Return as Elite NBA Star at 35 Years Old?

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had defied Father Time and managed to remain among the NBA's elite players despite being 34 years old, and then he tore his Achilles tendon against the Golden State Warriors and everything changed.

What a difference a year makes.

Before Bryant's injury against the Warriors on the eve of the 2013 NBA playoffs, it was easy to believe that Bryant could play another 2-3 years at an elite level, but now it's anybody's guess as to what kind of player Bryant will be when he returns.

What we do know about Bryant's type of injury should tell us he will never be the same.

Bryant's torn tendon will eventually heal completely, but the explosive first step, the burst to the rim and the quick footwork off the dribble will likely be diminished, if not gone.

And while Bryant had clearly lost a step anyway, there were still times when he had memorable moments.

Unfortunately there is a strong chance that images like the one above are a thing of the past.

Need proof? Just ask Chauncey Billups.

Billups never had Bryant's athleticism but he was no slouch in that department, and one of the things that made him so good was his size, strength and ability to get to the rim off the dribble.

At one point Billups was considered one of the premier point guards in the NBA, and even though his physical skills had begun to diminish when he injured his Achilles in February of 2012, Billups was still an impact player.

Billups has only played in 22 NBA contests since that point and every one of his numbers have suffered except his free-throw shooting.

Sure, Billups may still be good for a stray three-pointer here or there, but his true value at this point in his career is providing direction to the Detroit Pistons' young players.

Billups will never again be "Mr. Big Shot", but thankfully for Lakers fans, the c...

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