Kobe Bryant has yet to confirm his retirement plans. He, genuinely, may not have any retirement plans, even though the Lakers have had to keep him out of back-to-back games, and even though his presence is likely hindering the development of several of the team’s young players.
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Bryant’s contract expires on July 1, two and a half months after the 2-9 Lakers' season will come to a close.
It’s all wrapped in a tidy bow for the 37-year-old, but understandably he’s stopping just short of admitting that 2015-16 will be his last season as an active player.
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From a talk with Mike Krzyzewski and Frank Isola on Sirius XM’s NBA channel:
Kobe told Coach K on SiriusXM that "if something changes 'll come back and play next season. If something doesn't change this is it for me."
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) November 19, 2015
Bryant stopping short is understandable for a few reasons.
He’d like his Lakers, internally, to get their act together. Veteran Lou Williams has missed two-thirds of his shots, Julius Randle has had an up-and-down (let’s call it what it truly is) rookie season, and D’Angelo Russell often plays like the 19-year old he is. Byron Scott is likely the league’s worst head coach, running Brandon Bass at center late in games and attempting to close out contests with Marcelo Huertas for whatever reason.
The idea of a farewell tour, which would undoubtedly commence should Bryant announce plans to hang it up following the season, is an anathema to Kobe. He’s famously gone through an NBA life without any close contemporary friends (save for Pau Gasol, who could probably get away with tickling Genghis Khan), and the idea that he’d have to smile and wave as Damian Lillard handed him a plaque and a present at midcourt before a game in Portland on Jan. 23 probably disgusts him.
Most importantly? The dude doesn’t want to go out like this.
He’s not going to retire midseason, having also missed two-thirds of his shots in 2015-16 (a move that would also, technically, give the Lakers a chance to pass on giving him nearly all of the $25 million he’d make this season if he stuck it out, though they likely wouldn’t have the temerity to). He’d also, at the very least, like the chance to prop that shooting percentage up a bit and to lead these Lakers on a charge that would rank them as a late-season spoiler. Anything but this.
On top of that, nobody should presume that Kobe has made up his mind about retirement.
In 1998, Michael Jordan had the perfect retirement setup in place. All but two of his Chicago Bull teammates saw their contracts expire that summer, along with coach Phil Jackson, and Jordan had just clinched his team’s sixth title by scoring the deciding final four points (along with a clutch steal) in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. It was a perfect, storybook ending that even the least-cynical Hollywood hack would reject for being too damn perfect.
Yet it took an extended lockout and a major finger injury on his shooting hand for Jordan to decide, seven months after his final shot in Utah, that he was done (that time, at least). Yes, Jordan played a key role in the labor negotiations between the players and league, but he could have done as much as an ex-player with no technical stake in the proceedings. The guy didn’t want to leave, as evidenced by his return to action, wearing an ugly Washington Wizards uniform, in 2001.
Kobe might be sick of this [stuff], and too old for this [stuff] (Jordan played until he was 40, but unlike Kobe he was afforded nearly five full seasons of retirement away from the game, and Kobe entered the league three years younger than Jordan), but he’s not ready to walk away just yet. This isn’t just because he wants to avoid a rocking chair ceremony.
Which is fine, and understandable. Still, if Kobe is lusting for something to change, at some point he’s going to have to take a hard look at the 37-year-old that is taking 16 shots a game, and missing 11 of them.
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