Do the Los Angeles Lakers Owe Kobe Bryant More in His Final Chapter?

As Kobe Bryant prepares for the mental, physical and emotional rides sure to follow in his 19th NBA season, it cannot be easy for him to shake one haunting question.

Is this it?

That's not a confrontation with mortality either. After a torn Achilles and fractured tibia have twice put him face-to-face with the game's grim reaper over the past 16 months, he knows all too well which side of his hourglass holds the most sand grains.

What Bryant could (and honestly should) have a hard time understanding is how the Los Angeles Lakers have botched the last leg of his journey this badly.

L.A. set a franchise record for losses last season (55) and had its second-lowest winning percentage ever (.329). While they should have a healthy Bryant this time around—which it didn't for all but six games last year—the Lakers could conceivably be worse.

"The team has gone from not knowing who was its third-best player behind Bryant and Pau Gasol to not knowing who is its second-best player now," wrote Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding. "And Bryant still has to prove that he can stay healthy and produce as a best player must."

Even if things get better, the difference could be marginal. Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal pegged the Lakers for 32 victories, two more than they were given by the ESPN Forecast panel.

"Those thinking the Lakers will be marginally better than last year are on the right track, because that's what they are: slightly more talented, walking a slippery slope, one injury away from another season-long fiasco, one Kobe Bryant renaissance shy of exceeding minimal expectations," wrote Bleacher Report's Dan Favale.

The offensive talent has improved through the offseason arrivals of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and rookie Julius Randle, but where is the fortune-reversing needle-mover in that group? Don't go looking for it, because it isn't there....

About the Author