Everyone watched Kobe Bryant’s every movement. The Lakers’ star attracted mob-like attention as he walked around the Lakers’ practice facility to film endless promotional spots and conduct endless interviews on Monday at the team’s annual Media Day.
Each step Bryant takes on the court in the 2015-16 NBA season could cause the same frenzy. He enters his 20th NBA season that pays him $25 million, and the intrigue goes beyond whether he can stay healthy after his season ended abruptly for three consecutive years because of ailing injuries. The debate will linger on if this will mark Bryant’s last NBA season. All of which led the Lakers’ star to express uncertainty in blunt terms.
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” Bryant said. “Hell if I know. I don’t know.”
Bryant spoke those words without any hint of sarcasm or vagueness. The Lakers’ star maintained he has no idea what to expect on how well he and his teammates play, let alone whether he wants to prolong his NBA career.
The conventional wisdom suggests Bryant’s future will hinge on if he can stay healthy and how quickly the Lakers’ core of young players develop, two variables that will determine the length of the franchise’s current rebuilding project. But Bryant suggested other unforseen circumstances could emerge influence his thinking.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Bryant said. “I’ve thought about it a little bit in terms of, what is the deciding factor? How do players actually know when it’s time to hang them up, truly? Everybody kind of gives you guys the standard cookie-cutter answers – relaxing, golfing, spending time with the family, things like that. But, really, how do you truly know? And I don’t know. I’ll have a much better answer when that time comes for me.”
But that will hardly stop anyone from offering take.
New York Knicks president and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson suggested Bryant may leave the Lakers for another NBA team this season, indirectly suggesting the Knicks as a possibility.
“I can’t spend my season responding to what everybody says,” Bryant said. “Everybody is going to have opinions. I can’t comment on every single opinion that everybody makes, even if it’s a coach that I won so many championships with and know extremely well. It’s still his opinion. There will be many others.”
Usually, the Lakers’ star would express annoyance over such a debate. Case in point, Bryant said sarcastically that he will make his announcement on his NBA future in two days. But Bryant seemed intrigued about the discussion, mindful it centers on a productive NBA career that has spanned five NBA championships and a third-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list. Bryant will also soon become the lone Lakers player to play for the franchise for 20 seasons.
“It could get to become a pain in the [butt,],” Bryant said about the discussion surrounding his pending retirement. “But when I sit back and think about it, it’s actually cool, because it means that you’ve had a really good career and people want to know when the time is coming for you to hang ‘em up. Like me, don’t like me, [but people] respect the career that I’ve had. I think that’s a pretty damn cool thing.”
But Bryant has his limits.
He may have spoken to former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter about his retirement last year as well as their recent business partnership with “The Players Tribune.” But Bryant did not sound interested in a farewell tour, even if the Lakers will honor him with unspecific tributes during home games to commemorate his 20th NBA season.
“We’re completely different people. I couldn’t do that,” Bryant said. “We joke that he and I couldn’t be any more opposite with personalities. It’s fun just kind of hearing his perspective and what he went through and kind of what triggered the decision for him to step away from the game. I don’t know what that’s going to be for me.”
Bryant maintains that feeling will linger for the next eight months, his thoughts dwelling more on how he can help the 2015-16 Lakers overachieve than determining when his last stand will take place.
“I don’t dwell on it too much, honestly. If it is, it is. If it isn’t, I’ll be ready for next season. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. I’ve got enough to think about,” Bryant said. “We’ve got such a young team and a lot of things to solve. So I have to – in all seriousness – spend my energy thinking about that stuff. I’m not going to BS you guys. If I going to think about it or if I was going to make decision or if I knew, I’d say it. It’s no big deal to me. But I really have to focus on this group, because it is going to be a challenge to put this puzzle together.”