Kobe Bryant looks like a man on a mission after coming up short in The NBA Finals last season Yes, he already has three championship rings and now a MVP award; however, he's heard the whispers of people saying he can't win a title without Shaquille O'Neal. And when Kobe's hearing whispers of any kind that provide extra motivation, it usually spells trouble for the rest of the league.
In short, dude looks as focused as he's ever been. That's particularly scary for the rest of the Association when you consider Bryant's already the best player on the planet and has been now for some time.
While Bryant is hungry to get another NBA
title this season, he's still got a twinkle in his eye on the heels of winning a gold medal with Team USA this summer as he explained to HOOPSWORLD in an exclusive interview on Saturday in Denver.
"It was just such an unbelievable experience, and we just had such a great time doing it," Bryant told HOOPSWORLD. "It was a long journey, but it all seemed like it went by so fast now. It just feels so good to have that gold medal. But that last game against Spain, if you're going to win it, that's the way to do it. If you want to get back on top and cement the USA's position as being the top-dog, you wanted a little bit of a test."
Of course, Bryant's teammate Pau Gasol was a member of the Spanish team the United States defeated to secure the gold medal, a fact that certainly isn't lost on Bryant.
"To be honest with you, we don't talk about it too much. I might mention it to him every once in awhile just in passing, just in conversation," Bryant acknowledged with a big smile. "It's fun. It's great competition and raises the level of competition in practice with the Lakers, actually. But man, what a team. Spain is a great team."
The summer was no doubt a great experience for Bryant and his United States teammates, but Kobe made it clear the minute he set foot on the Lakers' practice floor in El Segundo it was all about business. And Bryant was very honest in acknowledging what the team has to do better if LA wants to dethrone the Boston Celtics this season.
When asked if the Lakers learned a thing or two from the Celtics' defensive approach in The Finals, Bryant replied: "No question about that. We understand if we want to be champions the defensive end is where we have to get it done. To be honest, we felt like we had more firepower than Boston, but they were a better defensive team than us. Obviously they have three future Hall of Famers, so that's great firepower there. But we thought defensively they were just better on a more consistent basis. That's something we have to try and straighten out if we want to knock them off the throne."
Anyone who has watched the Lakers play defense early this season will notice a different and much more aggressive approach.
Denver head coach George Karl described L.A.'s new defense this way: "They're longer than any team I've ever seen play in the NBA. They've gone to kind of a zone defense behind the ball that is very interesting because of their length. Their length now allows them to zone up and cover the strong side with an extra-man."
Bryant indicated the Lakers now have a structured defensive approach in much the same way most teams have a system they routinely execute on the offensive end.
"We have a defensive system now as opposed to trying to kind of take it from game-to-game," Bryant said. "We have a system that we apply and play out of, and it really doesn't change too much. Once you have a system, you get better playing in that system. It's been working well for us."
Now that the Lakers have a refined approach to the game on the defensive end, a healthy Andrew Bynum and perhaps the best bench in the league, L.A. is quickly emerging as the early season favorites in the Western Conference. Even so, Bryant preached extreme caution noting just how tough the West will be again this season.
"It's tough because (as the Western Conference Champions) everyone's gunning for you. But still, you're not the champs. When you're the champs there's a different swagger that comes along with that. We believe that we're close and we're very excited about the opportunity. Now, it's just about going to get it. We still don't really feel the pressure of being the hunted or anything like that because we really haven't done anything. Hopefully next year it will be a different story."
After winning the MVP award last season, there are really no other individual accolades left for Bryant to shoot for. Put simply, Bryant is after one thing and one thing only at this stage of his career - another championship ring.
If that fact doesn't instill a healthy sense of fear into the Lakers' opponents this season, they are either not very smart or not paying much attention.
Edited by magicbalala245, November 02, 2008 - 09:15 PM.