Acceptance Of New Role
Some may sense that as a result of Howard’s choice to leave Bryant and go his separate way rather than play second-fiddle to an aging superstar, that other players are unlikely to want to pair with Kobe. (By the way, Howard’s departure is likely another factor fueling Bryant’s desire to win another ring with/for the Lakers.)
However, I don’t see other players being discouraged to play with Kobe as the case. If you ask any former teammate of Kobe’s who’s actually taken his advice, taken on his relentless persona, and won a championship next to him, they would have nothing but great things to say about playing alongside Kobe.
Think of Smush Parker–who’s called out Bryant on a number of occasions–and where he is today (does anyone really know?) Now think of Pau Gasol, an extremely sensitive, caring guy who’s played alongside the notoriously tough and demanding Bryant for the last five seasons and won two championships with him.
You think Gasol would have changed anything about those last five years regarding his relationship with Bryant? I doubt it, as Bryant has continuously stuck up for Gasol regarding a number of topics, and the two refer to each other as brothers; not to mention the winning again, of course.
In that regard, Kobe does have that nurturing element to his leadership, and he certainly could co-exist with someone who he already has a solid relationship with (like Carmelo) and someone who understands that playing alongside the Black Mamba will only make them better and add value to them.
However, because of the injury and the amount of miles he’ll have on his body, Kobe will have to accept a new role. He may not have to necessarily be the second option, but he’ll at least have to share the offensive responsibility with another, younger superstar if he wants to extend his career. I don’t see that as being a problem as long as the other superstar(s) knows his place (as most NBA players do when it comes to Bryant), and Bryant has full confidence in him (as he does with the likes of Carmelo).
Some may argue that while Bryant gets along with players like Gasol, that he doesn’t do so well with other dominating presences like Shaq or Dwight, and doesn’t do well with deferring to them. However, Kobe always respected Shaq’s game and did whatever it took to win with him. With Howard, Dwight simply didn’t possess the kind of skills to warrant deference from one of the greatest scorers and champions of all time.
With a player like Anthony–someone Bryant considers to be like a little brother–Kobe has always had nothing but positive things to say about him and is one of Melo’s biggest supporters. Coupled with Carmelo’s respect for Bryant and easy-going personality, I wouldn’t see that as a problem.
Any other superstar(s) I wouldn’t see having much of a clash with Kobe, either, as they generally respect him to the highest degree. As long as that’s what the foundation is built on–mutual respect–I can see Kobe at least willing to share in the responsibility.
Perhaps the first sign of that was in an interview with Dave McMenamin, in which Kobe stated he’d be “more than comfortable” with sitting back and averaging 21 or 22 points and 10 or 11 assists in lieu of the possible alteration of his game due to the injury.
If he truly will be comfortable with having that mentality, it will hopefully be one way in which he can elongate his already illustrious career.
With those three elements–conservation, surrounding talent, and the acceptance of an altered role–the storied career of one of the game’s all-time greats may possibly add a couple extra chapters, and do so successfully and gracefully.