Kobe Bryant's input makes sense

Eras don't tend to come to a close gracefully or even bloodlessly.

Occasionally a torch is passed peacefully, but mostly anyone good enough to carry that torch in the first place holds on to it until it's forcibly taken from them.

This is the moment the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant find themselves in now. It has come sooner than either anticipated, and maybe sooner than it should've.

But the new collective bargaining agreement includes so many incentives for players to re-sign with their current teams, the only way for superstars such as Orlando's Dwight Howard, New Jersey's Deron Williams and New Orleans' Chris Paul to end up where they want to end up, and sign maximum contracts, is by forcing trades now.

Late Monday night, ESPN the Magazine's Chris Broussard reported the Lakers were attempting to land both Howard and Paul with a series of blockbuster moves that would undoubtedly rock the NBA.

They would also, of course, rock the Lakers and rattle the cage of their best player if not performed with care.

At 33, Bryant may not have as much bounce in his legs or lift on his jump shot as he did just a few years ago, but he's still an elite player who has worked hard to evolve his game into something that will age well.

Most scouts around the league say he still has another two or three elite seasons remaining in the tank and still will be a very effective player well into his 30s as he refines a post-up game he started working with former Houston Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon a few summers ago.

It is for this reason that point guards like Paul and Williams might actually be a better fit with the Lakers during Bryant's golden years than Howard.

A dominant point guard who can penetrate as well as Paul or shoot as well as Williams would create space for Bryant to operate on the low block. A dominant center like Howard would simply crowd the space Bryant will need to operate in as he ages.

Plus, he already has tried sharing a stage with a dominant center from the Orlando Magic at the beginning of his career. That doesn't seem to be the way he'd like to end it, either.

None of this is to say Bryant is selfish or that he will hold on to the reigns of this franchise too long. Just that he should have some say in who he wants to pass the torch to one day, and who he feels best about running with the next few seasons.

It's a respect thing, but it's also practical.

Even if they manage to pull off this entire wild-dream scenario or just a half of it, the Lakers will still revolve around Bryant for the next few years. He knows it, and the team does too. Or at least it should.

The Lakers acknowledged their error in not looping him in to their discussions before hiring Mike Brown to replace Phil Jackson. And while Bryant has since met Brown and given him his blessing, the team -- specifically the increasingly powerful executive vice president Jim Buss -- seems to know that it was not cool and shouldn't be repeated.

Bryant is a team guy now. He did his chirping earlier in his career. Credit maturity and maybe even Jackson for that.

He wants to win now. A sixth title would tie him with Michael Jordan. A seventh would leave him behind only Bill Russell in the NBA annals.

So yes, any move the Lakers make that gets him closer to either of those perches works for Bryant.

There's a right way to go about it, though.

A graceful way. Kobe Bryant deserves that. The Lakers should know by now.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.