Kobe Bryant has spoken freely this season about the end, and it's relative nighness.
Not everyone believes, as Bryant has said, he's inclined to hang it up at the conclusion of next season. But whether you're buying or selling, you won't have to wait very long to get an answer. Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com reports Bryant is still leaning towards retirement following an 18th go round, and will “in all likelihood” make a decision this summer:
“Bryant made it clear in an interview with NBA.com he expects to make a call before reporting to training camp and probably even long before that. One factor in the decision is the chance to end all the endless questions. Another is to give the Lakers clarity moving forward, in general, and particularly in conjunction with any contract talks that may take place.
“We’ll talk,” Bryant said after piling up 19 points, 14 assists against one turnover and nine rebounds while playing all but 23 seconds of the 103-98 victory over the Kings at Sleep Train Arena. “I’ll talk to my family and stuff and really see if I want to continue to sacrifice as much as I’m sacrificing right now. I’m putting my body through a lot to just try to get ready to play every single night. To do what I’m doing right now, it’s not easy. I’ll tell you, it’s taken a lot of commitment.”
Is your sense that next season will be your last?
“As I sit here right now, yeah.”
Is there anything the Lakers can say that would make it more likely you played beyond next season?
“No,” Bryant told NBA.com. “It’s my decision. It’s really about what I want to do, if I want to train and be psychotic with my training. That’s what it comes down to. It’s really how I’m feeling physically.”
While I'm certainly as interested in Kobe's future as the next guy — I'd love to watch him play on, but deeply respect his unwillingness to suit up as anything less than Kobe Bryant — the most interesting thing to me is how the summer's dynamics might play out should Kobe choose to make next year his last.
The Lakers face an uncertain future following a season that, save a shocking run, ends poorly. Does Dwight stick around? Who can Pau Gasol fetch on the trade market? Would the Lakers trade Steve Nash? Having doubled and tripled down on this season, the Lakers don't have much by way of future assets to put towards instant improvement.
The expected path is to re-sign Howard, flip Gasol (and anything else) for pieces better fitting Mike D'Antoni's system, hope this year's injury issues don't repeat themselves, and full summer and training camp with D'Antoni creates continuity totally lacking this season. On the other hand, maybe Dwight chooses to go. If the Lakers can't fetch a different franchise cornerstone moving Howard in a sign-and-trade (the world only has so many of them), the team's best course of action could be to blow things up, stack up as many young, cheap assets and picks as possible, and prep for the summer of 2014 when they'll finally have ample cap space available.
In that scenario, Kobe Bryant plays out his last year on a team without any shot of winning a title. How would he react? Would the franchise actually put him in that situation? The pressure to provide Bryant an opportunity for a sixth title would, for obvious and legitimate reasons, be overwhelming. On the other hand, the Lakers have to, at some point, take a longer view of the franchise's future, something Kobe to his credit seems to understand.
If things go off the rails this summer, the smartest thing for the Lakers could be to accelerate the post-Kobe rebuild while Kobe is still on the team. Not exactly the send-off anyone imagined for the guy some believe the greatest player in franchise history.