At some point a player accepts retirement. At a certain point his or her body isn’t what it used to be anymore. Maybe they didn’t have the lift on their jumper anymore. Maybe their defensive skills have eroded to the point of almost being nonexistent or maybe their knees hurt so much that moving fast isn’t as easy as it used to be. Whatever the case is, they aren’t the same player and they have to leave the game.
This brings me to the Los Angeles Lakers. More specifically, this brings me to Kobe Bryant and the conundrum of how much longer the Lakers should continue to pay him.
Two years ago the Lakers gave Kobe $48.5 million contract over two years. Was he worth it? Well, that depends what you want to define as “worth it.” On one hand he’s a Laker icon who has more rings than Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain combined. On the other hand he’s an aging shooter who, according to advanced stats, is actually hurting the team offensively.
That massive contract ends after this season and, if the Lakers had it their way, Kobe retires and is eulogized in Laker lore for years to come. They can’t have many more losing season and continue to matter in a market like Los Angeles.
What once was the marquee organization of the NBA is now riding shotgun with the New York Knicks (another team far removed from its past glory) to see what fan base will lose all hope in humanity first.
Over the last two years the Lakers are a combined 48-116 (29% winning percentage). That’s worse than the Utah Jazz, worse than those New York Knicks and even worse than the Sacramento Kings. Last year the Lakers 21 wins was the worst in Laker history since 1958. They were playing in Minneapolis at that time, not LA.
Before everything crumbled around them the Lakers had the golden ticket of Kobe Bryant. Since 1996 Kobe was the Lakers attraction and it worked. Through the championship highs and the legal trouble lows Kobe has been the face of the Lakers. Anyone who understands the NBA knows who he is. Seventeen All-Star games and countless NBA records will define his legacy. That helped him get that massive contract I referenced earlier.
The problem comes when nobody cares about what you’ve done in the past. That’s what NBA TV and tell-all books are for. Fans care about right now and if you can help the team win a championship this year and next year. That’s it.
Three numbers matter the most when it comes to Kobe Bryant and his remaining time in the league: 19, 37 and 41. The number 19 refers to the number of years Bryant has played in the NBA. The number 37 refers to Kobe’s age when the 2015-16 season begins and the number 41 is the number of games Bryant has played over the last two seasons because of a torn Achilles and a torn rotator cuff.
When you add all of those things up you have to assume that this is either Kobe’s last season or, at the very least, the end is near.
One problem seems to be presenting itself. Kobe doesn’t seem like he wants to go quietly into the night.
“We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. “But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.”
Then, to add more hope in Laker fan’s minds Kobe talks about how healthy he feels.
“There are no question marks on what I can do. My body and my legs feel extremely strong and healthy,” Bryant said. “That’s the big difference. My upper body, I’ve been doing the weights and stuff like that. I’ve been kind of building up the upper body strength. The biggest change is I feel very, very solid in my legs.”
So it sounds like he thinks he can go for another year or two. At the very least Bryant is confident about his body. Maybe he calls it a career after the year but then again, maybe he’ll decide to keep it going if he feels good next year and dare the Lakers to cut a living legend.
Whatever he chooses the Lakers are in a bad spot simply by not knowing how they’ll move forward after this year. If they cut him then that’s terrible PR and if they sign him they’re gambling on a body that has gone through a couple massive surgeries over the last two years. Good luck LA. Here’s some nostalgia on your way out.