What Kind of Player Will Kobe Bryant Be Next Season?

It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so tragic—Kobe Bryant coming back from a devastating injury that nearly ended his career and being pressed into running the point by Mike D’Antoni.

Can we dare to hope the same thing doesn’t happen again next season?

It was early December, and the Los Angeles Lakers superstar was about to return to action, nearly eight months after tearing the Achilles tendon in his left leg.

It had arguably been the biggest story in sports all summer.

But as Bryant, with a rich new two-year extension in hand, was taking his first steps back on the practice court, an oddly parallel story was playing out.

The Lakers, barely a month into their regular season, had already blown through all their point guards—Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar were sitting on the sideline with a variety of injuries.

The initial plan had been for Bryant to ease his way back into the game, either in his normal shooting guard role or at the small forward position, which would have put even less stress on his surgically repaired tendon.

It wasn’t to be. Instead, he got tossed right into the fire with the most demanding job in D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense. At the time, Dave McMenamin for ESPNLosAngeles.com reported on the head coach’s matter-of-fact assessment:

“He’s going to have the ball. So, whenever you have the ball you’re the point guard.”

According to Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times, Bryant responded to questions about his coach’s battle plan with a dry smile.

"Unfortunately, yes. I don't really have much of a choice right now. I've got to do a lot more than expected in terms of handling the ball and doing significantly more running."

Six games later, the Mamba was back on the shelf with a fractured left lateral tibial plateau...

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