No one will ever forget the images that personified Kobe Bryant’s insatiable desire to win even if it meant absorbing lots of pain.
Mere moments after suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon that still sidelines him to this day, Bryant stayed on the court to add a few layers to his legacy. Bryant swished two free throws. He walked off the court on his own accord. And he left the legions of Lakers at Staples Center both cheering him for his courageous act and showing sorrow for his long-term absence.
That’s why it’s hardly surprising a 31 percent plurality of the NBA’s general managers voted Bryant as the league’s toughest player, according to an NBA.com GM survey. He also ranked in second place (32.7 percent) for the player front office types would want to take the last shot, trailing only Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (39.3%). Meanwhile, both Steve Nash and Bryant finished second and fifth, respectively, as the player with the most basketball IQ.
Still, this survey also shows just how much the landscape has changed surrounding the Lakers.
They’re no longer considered one of the NBA’s title favorites after losing in a first-round sweep last season to the San Antonio Spurs as a seventh seed. An overwhelming majority (56 percent) tab Houston’s James Harden as the NBA’s best shooting guard over Bryant (20 percent). And as a reminder that the Lakers may very well wish they had Dwight Howard back at some point, the leagues’ front offices tab him as the NBA’s best center (65 percent), player acquisition that will make the most impact (86.2 percent), the league’s best defensive player (34.5 percent) and best interior defender (46.7 percent).
That’s why all eyes are on Bryant this season. For better or for worse, how Bryant overcomes his injury will mark the most significant variable determining the Lakers’ success.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org