Kobe Bryant: Can He Lead the L.A. Lakers Back to the Promised Land Next Season?

By most standards, a 57-25 record and a trip to the conference semifinals would signal a successful season.

But by Kobe Bryant’s standards, anything short of an NBA title is a failure.

The L.A. Lakers’ 2010-2011 season started with high hopes. The team was coming off back-to-back championships and needed one more title for Kobe to tie Michael Jordan’s championship ring total and Phil Jackson to complete his fourth three-peat as a head coach.

The Lakers fell short of their goal and were bulldozed by an underrated Mavericks team that went on to win the Finals. Getting swept in the playoffs is always embarrassing, but the way the Lakers went out—who can forget the thuggery of Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum—left a bad taste in the mouth of fans.

While the season was disappointing, the Lakers will return virtually the same team that was predicted to win the title before last year began. Several team flaws were exposed during the Lakers’ brief playoff run, and fewer analysts will be predicting the Lakers to return to the Finals.

But does that mean that Kobe can’t lead the Lakers back to the promise land?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at the different roles he played on prior championship teams.

During the Lakers’ three-peat from 2000-2002, Kobe’s athleticism and explosiveness were key. He was able to dominate other guards and score at will because defenders couldn’t match his tenacity and had a hard time staying in front of him.

He may not have been the No. 1 option, but he was far from just a sidekick.

When Kobe led L.A. to consecutive titles in 2009 and 2010, he was 29 and 30 years old. His explosiveness wasn’t the same, but he had reached the peak of his game because he developed other aspects of his game.

He had improved his jump shot and had developed a strong post ...

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