Kobe Bryant still believes.
During his exit interview on Tuesday, Bryant told reporters that this same group of Lakers that narrowly made the playoffs and was then (without Kobe) swept by the Spurs could "win a championship" next season if it is kept together. Despite all of the injuries to key players and the in-season coaching, the Lakers finally figured out how to play together, Bryant said.
"We know what we need to do. We know how to play together because we know what that rhythm feels like. That's what I'm saying is that it's great to bring the group back, the core guys back, because we know what we have to do and we know how lethal we can be," Kobe said. When asked what the team would do if everyone comes back healthy, Bryant quickly responded, "win a championship, no doubt about it."
With "injury after injury after injury" -- as Kobe described it -- the Lakers' projected starting lineup heading into the season of Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace were only on the court together for 4.8 percent of the team's total minutes this season, per ESPN's Numbers Never Lie. Bryant only missed four games, but his season ended with two remaining when he tore his Achilles against Golden State. Although his trainer said he'll likely be out for six to nine months, Bryant didn't seem to think the injury would change his game much.
"Worst case is I lose some athleticism. I lose some speed. I see a lot of guys who are not athletic and don't have speed that are still pretty damn good. And I think I'm a little better than them so I think I can adjust," he said.
Bryant also spoke about the adjustments that the star-studded teammates had finally made to one another and made it clear he wants to build on the team's late-season momentum rather than start fresh with a new group in training camp.
"When you go through a season like this and you're five games out of the playoffs and all of the sudden you have this incredible run and now we not only end up in the playoffs but we end up with the seventh seed, coming from where we came from, it does something to the character of the group," Bryant explained. "It builds togetherness, an understanding. There's no more confusion about how I should play with Dwight or how Dwight should play with Pau. It's not there anymore. So to allow that to dissipate and to do that again with a different group, it's a headache."
WATCH: Kobe's Exit Interview