Have We Seen the Last of Kobe Bryant as Dominant NBA Superstar?

It's never over for Kobe Bryant.

Despite suffering a tibial fracture just six games into his return from a ruptured left Achilles, the NBA's most defiant personality isn't remotely close to throwing in the towel. Quite the opposite actually, per B/R's Kevin Ding:

“I feel more locked in now than I've been my entire career, because of this,” Bryant said.

Locked in or not, there's a real discussion that needs to be had about Bryant's future in the league. The Los Angeles Lakers are paying him like an elite talent, and a great many fans continue to believe that it's only a matter of time until he lives up to that contract by returning to his superstar form.

On the other hand, signs of Bryant's decline have been apparent for a while, and there's a vast contingent of analysts who aren't so sure of Kobe's future.

A look at both sides of the "Bryant as Superstar" issue reveals a great deal about Kobe, but might be even more probative of the ideological divide between faith and doubt among NBA observers.


The Case Against Superstardom

We'll start with the basics, most of which applied long before Bryant cracked his tibia.

No. 24 has logged some absurd mileage in his 17-plus years. At over 54,000 combined minutes between his regular season and playoff runs, Bryant's tires were bound to wear out of tread eventually. And coming into this season, he was trying to recover from what might be the most devastating leg injury a basketball player can suffer.

If we're willing to be brutally honest, Kobe had actually begun to slip before his torn Achilles. Sure, his conventional numbers were eye-popping in his age-34 campaign, but Bryant essentially stopped playing both ends of the floor.

Defense is half of the game, and because Kobe entirely abandoned even the pretense of effort on D last year, it's fair to say he surren...

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