If Kobe and the Lakers had to determine a relationship status, “it’s complicated” feels as though it’s most fitting. Not that the two sides don’t love each other, but there are issues. When does Bryant retire? How many minutes should he play? How much money should he make if he doesn’t retire?
But anytime the Black Mamba speaks up in a candid interview, as he did with Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports, you listen (or in this case read).Here’s some of what Bryant said to Spears:
Spears: “Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has hinted that next season can be your last. Could it be?”
Kobe: “We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.’
“I’m making this very simple. Either I like playing the game and going through this process or I don’t. I try to strip it down to the simplest form. Either I like playing some more or I don’t. But I think that decision needs to be made after the season. It’s hard to make a decision like that before the season.”
Spears: “What do you think about the state of the Lakers right now?”
Kobe: “They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years. I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve.
“How quickly can we get going? How quickly can we bring up [rookie D’Angelo] Russell, [Julius] Randle. [Jordan] Clarkson got valuable experience last year in playing that will benefit us tremendously. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to running with these young guns.”
Spears: “Can this Lakers team make the playoffs?”Kobe: “Of course it can. Absolutely. We have talented players in their respective positions. We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don’t know. We are going to [training] camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does. We have to figure out what our strengths are, figure out what our weaknesses are. And every time we step on the court we are going to try to hide our weaknesses and step up to our strengths.”
I love this new honest Kobe that we’ve gotten with old age. It reminds me of … well, a younger Kobe before he learned how to manipulate the media with ease (I hated when he kept saying it wasn’t important to get revenge on the Celtics in the 2010 Finals, it obviously was … and then he admitted it was after the Lakers got the job done in Game 7). The media ate that up. But back to the important stuff before I digress too much.
Kobe and the Lakers have been “dating” for a long time, so a messy breakup is unlikely. However, the best thing for the franchise would be if he’d retired this offseason. Clarkson, Russell and Randle are all in place, but there’s still a $25 million 36-year old on the books that doesn’t quite fit. This was never really an option, though. So what’s a realistic expectation?
Bryant isn’t going out after his third straight season ended early due to injury. If he can’t go out on top with a sixth championship, he still has the type of fierce competitiveness that at least warrants a final season of good health and a postseason birth — and the two really go hand-in-hand.
But hey, if Kobe can stay healthy and this team clicks, landing the 7th or 8th seed out west isn’t out of the question. As basketball fans, this is what we want to see. A Kobe farewell tour (whether he announces it or not) where he can show us he’s still got it, before it ends on his favorite stage — the playoffs.
But even when it comes to next offseason (the one Kobe is speaking on when discussing retirement), it’s still best for the team if he hangs them up.
The kids learn for a year under Kobe, then he hands them the reigns … willingly or unwillingly.
It’s how he can help the Lakers most. Even if he stuck around playing for $1 million a year like MJ did for the Wizards, he’d still be taking minutes and shots from the youngsters the team is trying to ride to its next championship.
I was cheering for the Celtics in 2008 and 2010. Kobe’s broken my heart before, but I mean it when I say that I genuinely wish Kobe the best this season. I can’t wait to see him play in person on the parquet one final time.
I respect the hell out of him for grinding back after all these injuries. Honestly, who has the mental fortitude to do these types of things? Essentially three 9-month comebacks from serious surgeries at his age … nobody attempts that. Only Kobe. He’s one of a kind. Hopefully he’s honest with himself when his time comes.
Find me on Twitter @julianedlow