Speculation has been running rampant about whether or not this upcoming season will be Kobe Bryant’s last season, both with the Los Angeles Lakers and in the NBA altogether.
Kobe’s contract expires at the end of the year, and he has remained essentially mum about whether or not he plans on coming back after the upcoming year. Instead, he says he’d rather wait until the end of the season before making a final decision on his playing future.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss opened up about how the team was treating Bryant heading into the last year of his contract.
“We’re going to approach it like it is, but that doesn’t mean it is,” Buss said of Bryant. “I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘This is it, Kobe, you’re done,’ because it’s not my decision, it’s his decision.”
Kobe will be the highest-paid player in the NBA in 2015-16, making $25 million, this despite the fact that he is 37 years old and has played just 41 games over the past two seasons.
Buss, however, says that Kobe still has earned his paycheck.
“The man has done so much for the Lakers and the fans of the Laker nation, he deserves the money,” Buss said. “I don’t understand anybody trying to break down what I did for him. Let’s break down what he did for us, then say, what is he worth? To me, he’s worth that.”
So is this Bryant’s final year with the team? “My arms are like this,” Buss said, holding his arms wide open, about Bryant’s future.
“He just has to know, at that age, and that many miles on you, what is your role? We’ll explain the role, and if he still wants to do that and that’s how he wants to go out, that’s fine with me.”
That last comment about the role Kobe would play is an interesting one. If he struggles this year, and should D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle be ready to take over the team next season, would Kobe accept less ball-dominant position with the team? Bryant has been nothing but an alpha-dog since basically his second year in the league, and it would be hard to imagine him accepting a backseat role even if his body told him that was his most effective means of play.
It seems more likely that if Kobe doesn’t think he would be able to produce at a superstar level next season, he would just hang it up instead of re-signing just to play an extra year.
The Lakers are on the way up, though – there’s no doubt about that. Russell and Randle are two legitimate studs who should keep the team in good hands for the next several years. However, the Lakers competing for a championship the next two seasons (barring a major free agent signing next offseason, which granted is always a possibility in L.A.) is highly unlikely, so Kobe would essentially be playing to help mentor the young players and have one final retirement tour, the latter of which is something he’s previously said he’s against doing.
Of course, there’s always the possibility of Kobe signing to play with a team that is closer to championship-level team. He surely wants that sixth ring to match Michael Jordan. However, it’s pretty difficult to picture Kobe in any uniform but a Lakers one at this point in his career.
If Kobe puts up All-Star like numbers, the Lakers get close to the playoffs (or sneak in), and he remains relatively healthy throughout the season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Kobe return to Los Angeles past 2015-16. Those are all big ifs, however, and NBA fans may have to come to terms that this could very well be the final season of the Black Mamba.
(Via Los Angeles Times)