As the Los Angeles Lakers get ready for the NBA regular season, there’s already speculation about what Kobe Bryant will do at the end of the season.
At 37 years old, Bryant is on the last year of his contract, set to earn $25 million this season.
When the season ends, he’ll be a free agent, and many people have assumed he’ll retire.
However, Bryant himself has never confirmed that he’ll be retiring, and Knicks president and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson sparked interest when he said he doesn’t think Bryant will retire at the end of the season.
Of course, much of this depends on how Bryant’s season goes. Over the past three seasons, Kobe has only managed to play 119 games out of a possible 246. Between major injuries and a diminished supporting cast, Bryant’s efficiency has crumbled, too, shooting just 37% from the field and 29% from 3-point range last year, while also playing lackluster defense.
Nonetheless, Bryant still views himself as a star player, which is why much of the NBA world thinks the Lakers need to move on from Bryant this coming offseason.
In a terrific profile from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes on the decision the Lakers have to make this summer with Kobe, 13 of 24 league insiders that Holmes spoke with said the Lakers need to move on from Bryant immediately in order to properly rebuild the team. They believe with his diminishing production, but large ego, he won’t accept that he’s no longer a premier player, particularly on a gutted, rebuilding team.
One league executive explained to Holmes how the Lakers should break up with Bryant – make him an offer he’ll want to refuse:
“So let’s say I walked in there as GM, and one of the first things I did was say, ‘Hey, Kobe, you’re not coming back.’ I think that would probably play extremely poorly in the L.A. media. As a use of your political capital, that’s probably not the right thing to do. It’s probably better to offer him a contract at, like, say, $5 million with some strings attached – ‘Hey, our expectations for you on this contract is you’re going to mentor the young guys, you’re going to behave in an excellent way.’ … And just basically put him in a position where he’s probably going to say no to you.
“Then you can be like, ‘Look, we offered him $5 million a year. This is the type of deal that Nowitzki and Duncan took. We wanted him to be part of the next wave, but we told him that he’s got to be a mentor, and he probably won’t be a 35-minute-a-night player, and blah, blah, blah, and he told us that doesn’t appeal to him,’ so at least you can say you tried.”
The insinuation is that Kobe, coming off making $25 million this season, won’t want to take such a steep pay cut, and he won’t want to play mentor to younger players.
The same executive said his options are going to be limited for the same reason, if he even wants to join another team. He said, “I don’t know of anybody who in their right mind would say getting him in their organization would be a great idea.”
Unfortunately, this is where Bryant’s career has fallen. While no one doubts his talent and his place among the all-time greats, he’s become something of an inefficient, high-volume shooter, whose ego gets in the way of on-court strategy and team-building.
On the flip side for the Lakers, Bryant is good for business, both from a PR sense with fans and for TV ratings and ticket and merchandise sales, as Holmes notes.
If Bryant makes it through the season healthy and is looking for a new contract, there’s no doubt the Lakers and other teams will be interested. But in this stage of his career, he’s a tough player to build around.