The pain Kobe Bryant has felt in his body has at times become too overwhelming. He felt a kicking sensation just moments before tearing his left Achilles tendon. He felt tension in his left leg after colliding with Memphis’ Tony Allen. He felt an ache in his right shoulder right after throwing down a one-handed dunk that morphed into a torn labrum.
Yet, Bryant has willingly completed his lengthy rehabs that has entailed taking endless ice baths, antibiotics and rest all for the sake of accomplishing two things. So Bryant can return to the basketball court and prove he can both overcome a serious injury and play at an elite level. So he can further reach his quest that has driven him for his entire 19-year NBA career.
“I know Kobe wants six championships,” former Showtime Laker James Worthy said Monday on SiriusXM NBA Radio with Brian Geltzeiler and Stacey King. “I know he wants to tie Michael [Jordan]. Kobe is looking to six.”
Hence, the $25 million question entering the Lakers’ 2015-16 season entails whether Bryant can play out the final year of his contract without suffering another major injury. Yet, Worthy hardly believes this will mark Bryant’s official farewell tour.
“It depends on his body. The body can only take so much,” Worthy said. But if he can play less minutes and take less money, I think he would play some more. I don’t see him retiring until I see it.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott has often echoed that point of view, but it remains to be seen whether that dream will become a reality. For one, Bryant has outlined in thought process since his season-ending injury into two parts. He has leaned toward thinking next season will mark the final year of his storied NBA career, the 37-year-old mindful that his unyielding preparation and skills cannot keep fighting Father Time. But Bryant has left the window open, perhaps until the season ends in case a more talented team and a healthier body will rejuvenate him.
Yet, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has repeatedly stressed Bryant has indicated this will mark his last year, leaving Kupchak to assemble his roster for the post Bryant era. The Lakers missed out on acquiring a potential superstar who could carry Bryant’s torch, with LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe and DeAndre Jordan all passing out a chance to wear purple and gold. But the Lakers acquired decent veterans in center Roy Hibbert, guard Lou Williams and forward Brandon Bass to complement a young core of players headlined by D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to get that,” Worthy said about the Lakers’ hopes to land a marquee free agent. “But fortunately we were able to get pieces that will move us forward. We turned the corner in Los Angeles.”
Whether the Lakers turn a corner this season depends on Bryant, both with his health and how he leads a young team. But Worthy scoffed at all the criticism surrounding Bryant’s personality, heightened recently amid the revelation Bryant had not talked with Hibbert, Williams and Bass before their introductory press conference last week.
“I don’t know what happened to young players coming out of college and why they’re not used to being tough and picked on. Kobe would’ve been perfect in the 80’s,” Worthy said. “Magic Johnson was the same way. Michael Cooper was the same way. We stayed in each other’s face. So I think you have to embrace that.”
Still, Bryant has earned praise in recent seasons for showing mentoring younger teammates, ranging from Shannon Brown, Trevor Ariza, Nick Young, Jeremy Lin, Wesley Johnson, Clarkson and Randle. Russell also has touched base with Bryant this summer and expressed giddiness about learning from him.
“Every new kid that comes into town, [Kobe] takes them in and goes in and works out with them,” Worthy said. “You have to be tough in this league. Don’t expect to be talked to. It’s all for constructive criticism. I think it’s good for the locker room.”
So much that Worthy likes Bryant’s trash talking, leading the former Lakers legend to argue that teammates should stand up to Bryant anytime he opens his mouth.
“Shut Kobe up. Talk some trash to him and shut him up,” Worthy said. “That’s what you have to do. I think Kobe has learned to know which guys he can push, which guys don’t’ respond to it. Some guys don’t respond to it. But we welcomed that in the locker room. That’s what created good cohesiveness and good chemistry. Sometimes I think the fact that Kobe gets on players has been a little overrated.”