The prospect over losing Kobe Bryant once scared the Lakers.
He demanded a trade in 2007 and persistently criticized the front office, two feelings that eventually softened through time, the patience of the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, the Pau Gasol acquisition and two NBA championships that shortly followed.
But with the Lakers possibly headed toward a prolonged rebuilding process, would Bryant want to leave the Lakers again? Mindful that Bryant’s two-year, $48.5 million contract ends following the 2015-16 season, former Lakers teammate Rick Fox hardly dismissed the idea he would leave the Lakers to finish out his career pursuing more NBA championships.
“I would not put it past him,” Fox said in a recent appearance with Larry King, as shown in the video above.
King then mentioned the New York Knicks, mindful that former Lakers coach Phil Jackson serves as the organization’s president. Incidentally, multiple reports state the Knicks’ head coach will be Derek Fisher, who won all five of his NBA championships with Bryant and forged a strong relationship.
“”If there is not a real opportunity for [Bryant] to win a championship there, the thought of him leaving may shock Lakers fans,” Fox said. “But I wouldn’t put it past him going in search of one or two more championships. Personally, I think it’s going to get done in New York. I really do. I just believe in Phil. I’ve been around him. I know Kobe has had his greatest success with Phil in a leadership capacity. So the reuniting of the two is not an unrealistic thought.”
Bryant has not publicly indicated such a scenario might occur. In recent years, Bryant has said he plans to finish his career solely playing for the Lakers. The Lakers would also never trade Bryant for various reasons. Though Bryant played in only six games last season amid rehabbing a left Achilles tendon and suffering a season-ending left knee injury, the Lakers have stayed optimistic he will both fully heal from those injuries and play at a prolific rate. Bryant has enhanced the Lakers’ global brand, and a trade would entail a public relations nightmare with the franchise’s fan base. Regardless of Bryant’s skillset and stature, his recent injuries and two-year, $48.5 million also could complicate the Lakers receiving maximum value on Bryant’s return.
But what about once Bryant’s contract expires?
Bryant had questioned the franchise amid the worst season in L.A. franchise history. He called on Lakers president Jeanie Buss and executive Jim Buss to improve their relationship. Bryant also scoffed at the rhetoric uttered from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak that he would spend money conservatively this offseason in part to save up for the 2015 free agent class. Bryant has since met with key members of the Lakers’ organization and has voiced public votes of confidence surrounding the rebuilding phase.
Still, too many variables have to play out before Fox’s hypothetical scenario could materialize. One involves how quickly the Lakers rebuild. They have spent the past six weeks searching for a coach to replace Mike D’Antoni, who resigned in late April. The Lakers also only have four players under contract next season in Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall. Of course, Jackson is overseeing a Knicks franchise that missed the playoffs last season with a 37-45 record.
Nonetheless, Fox touted Bryant as superior over Miami’s LeBron James and believed the Lakers’ star would have cemented a stronger legacy had he not shattered his left Achilles in mid-April, 2013. In Fox’s mind, that would have included Bryant collecting six or seven NBA championships while surpassing former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring record. Instead, Bryant has five NBA titles and is ranked in fourth place on the league’s all-time list with 31,700 points. Abdul-Jabbar has a league-leading 38,387 points, while Karl Marlone (36,928 points) and Michael Jordan (32,492 points) rank second and third, respectively.
“I thought the Lakers would find a way to reload quickly, which they have historically done,” Fox said. “If [Bryant] ended up with six rings and had done all the things individually he was on track to do and played 20 years, with the longevity and consistency of play I didn’t see that matched by anyone other than Kareem. And to do it as a 2-guard was even more impressive to me and not being a big man. Where is he at now unfortunately, the injury has slid him into the top 10.”