Danny Moloshok/Associated Press
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant is eyeing his 20th and possibly final NBA season, and warranted questions surround the five-time champion’s future.
With Bryant’s regular-season return less than three weeks away, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News spoke with league experts and sources close to Bryant to forecast expectations for his future.
On Bryant’s athleticism, an anonymous NBA assistant coach said: “He just can’t be in a situation where they throw it to him with six seconds left on the shot clock. He’s not as athletic anymore and can’t beat so many defenders.”
On the prospect that this may be Bryant’s final season, former teammate and current NBA TV analyst Rick Fox said: “I don’t think this is his last year. It might be his last year in L.A. But it won’t be his last year in the game. I think he’ll play overseas in China. Or maybe go to New York and be with Derek (Fisher) and Phil (Jackson) and mentor the other players with the triangle offense.”
On Bryant’s market value should he decide to continue playing, an anonymous NBA agent said: “The most he could get is a mid-level exception or a one-year deal for $10 million. But it obviously depends on if he stays healthy.”
Baxter Holmes of ESPN also polled 24 league insiders—executives, agents and scouts—and only one believes the Lakers should bring Bryant back should he decide to continue playing past his current contract.
“They’ve got to get rid of Kobe,” a scout said.
“You let him walk,” an agent said.
“Get rid of Kobe by whatever means necessary,” an executive said.
The storied Lakers are coming off their worst season in franchise history (21-61) and are projected to win 29.5 games this year, according to Odds Shark.
Bryant, 37, is coming off his third straight season-ending injury and is entering the final year of his current contract, in which he’s scheduled to earn $25 million. But Bryant won’t say if the upcoming season will be his last, and he sternly maintains that he wants to retire a Laker.
It all points to a looming decision—both untimely and uncomfortable—the team may have to make about the longest-tenured player with one franchise in NBA history.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Sirius XM Radio (h/t USA Today) that no negotiations have taken place, and he didn’t think any would.
“A year from now, if there’s something different to discuss, then it will be discussed then,” Kupchak said.
It seems like an impasse is inevitable.
The Lakers could be staring down a scenario similar to what the Green Bay Packers faced with Brett Favre. The Packers icon expressed his interest in returning to the team for the 2008 season after retiring months prior, creating a tense standoff when the Packers denied the three-time NFL MVP and moved on with Aaron Rodgers.
The divorce was ugly. Favre was ultimately traded to the New York Jets, retired again, was released from his contract in the offseason, then signed with the Minnesota Vikings, where he played his final two seasons and won the NFC North over Green Bay in 2009.
Though Bryant’s ability seems far more limited given recent injuries, the idea of him suiting up in anything other than purple and gold is a somber thought.
Before tearing his right rotator cuff in January, Bryant played just 35 games last year, averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. More alarming was his career-worst 37.3 shooting percentage, which was well below his career average of 45.1 percent.
In 2013-14, Bryant averaged just 13.8 points in the six games he played in before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The year before, he missed the Lakers’ short-lived playoff run after tearing his Achilles tendon near the end of the regular season.
ESPN recently tabbed Bryant as the No. 93 player in its preseason player rankings. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wasn’t as convinced.
We project @kobebryant to be the 236th-best player in the NBA this season. http://t.co/DTpSCuvlXC pic.twitter.com/gPh8s6gKg3
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 9, 2015
With the Lakers in the midst of a rebuilding process after spending high draft picks on Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell in consecutive years, coupled with Bryant’s high price tag, it’s hard to fathom the future Hall of Famer in the team’s plans past this year.
As Fox noted, a move to New York to join Jackson, Fisher and buddy Carmelo Anthony as a mentor to an equally young and struggling Knicks squad seems a realistic possibility.