Shelburne on Kobe's 'Unfamiliar territory'

If you haven't yet read this piece from ESPNLA's Ramona Shelburne on Kobe Bryant, do so.

In it, she details the new world in which he and the Lakers live, as the team tries to move past the Phil Jackson era and change shrinks Kobe's proverbial circle of trust. Throughout his career, Bryant has exerted as much control as possible on an occupation generally mocking that sort of thing. He's worked harder on his body and his game, searched for every edge, cribbed every move and absorbed any and every bit of information he can mine from anywhere, in or out of basketball. All in the interests of wining. Shelburne notes how this season, the second straight in which the Lakers fell well short, illustrated how little control Kobe might ultimately have in his chase for a sixth ring.

"There is no way to know when the end will finally come for Bryant. Only that he's closer to it with each passing year. He'll be 34 before next season, his 17th in the NBA. His legs are still strong, even if they aren't as spry. He can still dunk to prove a point. (He dunked four times in Game 5, so don't tell me he wasn't thinking about it.)

"It's different from being 21 and you think there's endless amount of opportunities," Bryant said Monday. "At 33, the ending is much, much closer."

He's hungry still. He's got time left. But you get the sense he only wants it if there's a chance to do something good with it. To win.

That's less certain now. He can shoot all night in the gym, it might not matter."

It's a great look at a chaotic season, and also sets the table for what could be a dominant theme in any discussion about Bryant in the next few years: What happens if or when it becomes clear the Lakers can't assemble a championship caliber team fast enough to capture Bryant's last best seasons?