Have you seen some of these YouTube videos applauding the return of Kobe Bryant? The fandom is of cult-like proportions. One would think a messianic figure had returned, and one just might be right – from a basketball perspective. Some people will likely say that Bryant looked horrible and will assign him to the scrap heap of players who failed to return to their former explosiveness after suffering an Achilles injury, but I would dare say that those individuals don't know spit about basketball. Considering that Bryant is 35-years-old and is coming off one of the most devasting injuries that a slashing, cutting, jumping, cutting player can suffer, I would say he didn't look horrible. He looked bad, but not too bad.
This past weekend, the Los Angeles Lakers announced the return of Bryant from an achilles injury. He now inherits a group that has been the very definition of a team treading water. And considering the circumstances, things aren't that bad in La-La Land.
Pau Gasol has reverted to his same old unreliable self after starting the season on a bit of a double-double roll, shooting a career-low 42 percent from the field and struggling to find a rhythm. Second-time Laker, Jordan Farmar, was arguably his team's best bench player, but he is now headed to the injured reserve list.
You might say this is the perfect time for Bryant to come back. Especially with the Western Conference as it is. The Portland Trailblazers (17-3) and the San Antonio Spurs (15-3) are the clear front runners, while the Oklahoma City Thunder (14-4), Houston Rockets (14-7) and Los Angeles Clippers (13-8) remain within striking distance.
But Bryant's return has the potential to ignite a roster that is in need of a catalyst. And you better believe the mere fact that the return of one of the best scorers in the history of the NBA has the entire conference on notice.
On Sunday night, the legend of the Black Mamba began anew, as the Los Angeles Lakers took on the Toronto Raptors at the Staples Center. Bryant's rhythm was clearly off. Although he showed flashes of brilliance throughout what would otherwise be considered a subpar game.
The first play of note was a pull up for what appeared to be his patented step back jump shot. But instead, he fired a bullet pass between two defenders to reserve center Robert Sacre for the easy basket. The next glimpse of greatness came during the first quarter. Kobe exhibited his legendary agility when crossing up Landry Fields at the top of the key, before dumping off a pass to power forward Pau Gasol for the lay up.
The next glimpse of the Black Mamba came when Bryant penetrated Toronto two-guard Demar DeRozen hanging all over his shooting hand. Bryant administered a series of ball fakes before shooting it with the left hand off the glass. Money.
A pull up jump shot in Field's grill would pretty much be the last of his fireworks as he shot an abysmal 2-9 from the field. The rest of Kobe's time on the court was spent acting as a decoy and a facilitator. He finished with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and eight turnovers. The bad part about Kobe's return? Eight turnovers. More than the Orlando Magic racked up on Sunday.
“I failed miserably at that. That was really the biggest thing for me, just trying to take care of the basketball because I know I’m going to be in charge of making some decisions out there," he said after the game. "Basketball wise, I’m not happy.”
The Lakers (10-10) would lose to the Toronto Raptors (7-12) with power forward Amir Johnson hitting up Gasol and the Los Angeles big men for a career-high 32 points and 10 rebounds. On the bright side, the Black Mamba was two rebounds and one bucket away from putting up a double-double. Bryant will likely place a renewed emphasis on his offensive output in the Lakers' next game versus the Phoenix Suns. The fast and furious offensive style the Suns like to play is just the type of game Kobe needs to get into a good shooting rhythm and to get out on the break for easy transition baskets.