Kobe Bryant is used to dealing with critics after an 18-year career as one of the NBA’s most high profile players.
But as the Lakers legend prepares to comeback for the famous purple and gold franchise after an injury-ravaged 2013-14 season the voices of doubt have perhaps never been louder.
Many have questioned whether the five-time NBA champion, one year into his huge $48.5 million contract, will still be able to dominate games on his return to the league after just six regular-season appearances last time out.
Kobe Bryant has never been one to allow criticism to slide however, and in an extensive interview with Chris Ballard in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated the Lakers legend explained how he will be back - in new but equally ominous form:
"When I hear pundits and people talk, saying, 'Well, he won't be what he was.' Know what? You're right. I won't be. But just because something evolves, it doesn't make it any less better than it was before," Bryant revealed.
Kobe Bryant has one of the highest basketball IQs out there after almost two decades at the top of the NBA and his off the court smarts are not far behind. Now 35 years of age Kobe is therefore clearly under no illusions that he will be the same one-man dominant force that has terrorized franchises up and down the country in years past.
Known as a relentless, sometimes selfish, scoring machine one interesting developing in Kobe's game over the past couple of seasons has been in the assists column.
Bryant averaged more assists than ever before in 2012-13 (6.0) and 2013-14 (6.3) and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues.
Bryant has been away from the Lakers starting line up since December 2013. And having regained full fitness this offseason, his return when the 2014-15 NBA season gets underway is hugely anticipated as fans, analysts and players alike wonder just what Kobe Bryant will turn out at the Staples Center this year.
What Kobe means by a new, evolved style remains to be seen but with the Lakers in a transitional phase under new head coach Byron Scott it will be interesting to see how Bryant gels with new teammates.
One thing is for certain however, the pressure to get the Ws on the board will remain on Kobe's ageing shoulders so Lakers fans best hope his return is as effortless as his 81-point game back in 2006.
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