Here's a sentence I never thought I'd need to write:
Nick Young rescued Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers from themselves.
For a night, at least, it appeared to be the case, as on Tuesday, a balanced Lakers attack topped Atlanta. Young returned early from thumb surgery and the Lakers looked like a different team. Carlos Boozer was attacking. So was Jeremy Lin. Bryant took a backseat for almost the entire second half, with only one field goal attempt across 19 minutes of game action, until he took over late.
I'll get this out of the way here: Bryant will go down as one of the best players to ever play the game. He's a legend in Lakerland with good reason. Five titles and countless memorable moments will warrant that kind of lofty status. You don't break the 32,000-point barrier without being elite for a long, long time. In Bryant's prime, he was the most savvy, electrifying scorer in the game and a lockdown defender when he wanted to be.
But this Kobe? He is not that Kobe. This version is 36 years old and coming off two major leg injuries that would jeopardize most players' careers. The fact that he's on the floor and playing every night is something of a medical miracle. No one should question his perseverance or willpower to play at the highest level. You certainly won't hear it from me.
But this version of Bryant can't carry a team to the playoffs like he did in 2006-07. Actually, when you look at the evidence, this version is usually keeping the Lakers from winning games as he plows his way toward scoring records. And maybe that's all part of the plan.