Over the last 19 seasons, Kobe Bryant has transformed from a scrawny kid who came from high school, into one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen. Many consider Kobe to be the greatest player in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise.
That being said, Kobe’s time in the league is coming to a close. The last couple of seasons have seen Kobe struggle with injuries, and with his contract running out at the end of next season, his 20th, many believe it will be the final time we see Kobe in purple and gold.
Kobe himself has said that in all likelihood he will hang it up after next year, but he did leave open the possibility of playing past next year. Lakers head coach Byron Scott has also said that he could see Kobe playing beyond the 2016 season. But would Kobe really keep playing?
He is one of the most competitive and driven players in NBA history, and he has made it very clear that he would love one more championship. 20 years is a long time, however, and Kobe’s body is already showing the signs of all the damage he has taken over the years.
So we asked our experts if they believed Kobe Bryant would play beyond the 2015-16 season. This is what they had to say:
Russell Valenzuela (@RussVal4): It’s going to be weird to see an NBA without Kobe Bryant, but that reality is going to happen sometime soon. Despite being his final year under contract, I don’t think the 2015-16 season will be Bryant’s last one.
Of course, this is all contingent on him not going through another injury and recovery process. If the minutes are managed properly, I can still see Bryant still being effective throughout the season which would indicate he still has the capability to play at a high level. Couple that with the potential of a much improved roster, and it wouldn’t be an insane idea to comeback back for a 21st season.
Another thing that needs to happen as well is having the Lakers clearly on the path back into contention. There is plenty of reason to believe the team can turn things around during the next two off-seasons.
Having another year of a developing Jordan Clarkson and adding Julius Randle as well as a potential top-five draft pick into the mix would give the Lakers a good young pieces. As for veteran help, free agents will have to be come in and join which is could be possible with an improved effort next year and the expected cap space jump in 2016.
Kevin Chan (@Kevin_Cruiser): There are too many factors that make it hard to fathom that Kobe would play beyond next season.
First, his health will continue to be an issue as he ages. If the last two seasons are any indication, Kobe’s body is starting to deteriorate and become more injury prone after eighteen years in the NBA. He will have missed more games this season and last (123 games) than all his previous sixteen seasons combined (96 games).
Secondly, Kobe will have to take a significantly reduced salary in order for the Lakers to be competitive. He’s scheduled to make $25 million next year, and if he were to return in 2016-2017 he’d have to slash his salary to a Tim Duncan-esque $10 million / year in order for the team to have cap flexibility. I can’t imagine Kobe accepting a 60 percent pay cut.
Finally he will have to take a backseat to the younger generation and accept a supporting role. In 2016 this Lakers team will be full of budding young players like Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and hopefully a top five pick from the 2015 draft. It’s hard to know who else will be on the Lakers past 2016, but one thing that’s clear is Kobe would no longer be the centerpiece of the franchise. I can’t imagine Kobe returning to the Lakers knowing that he’d have to be second or third fiddle.
All in all I’d be very surprised if next year isn’t Kobe’s final season.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): There are obviously a lot of factors that will play a role in Kobe’s decision, but ultimately I do believe Kobe will try and play past his current deal. That will only come, however, if Kobe believes the Lakers have a chance to win a championship.
Winning rings is Kobe’s biggest driving force and if the Lakers are able to transform the roster over the next two off-seasons, I think Kobe will give it a go. The Lakers do have the tools necessary to make that change happen.
Nailing this year’s draft will be essential to that plan as is Julius Randle developing into the stud that he has the potential to be and Jordan Clarkson at least showing he will be an above average player. Those young pieces with a couple of excellent free agent signings and the Lakers could suddenly have the players around Kobe to lighten his workload.
A decreased workload to go along with increased talent around him, and playoff aspirations, I believe would be enough to entice Kobe to play past his current deal. I think it is a long shot that the Lakers are actually able to pull it off, but it is a real possibility, and one that I hope to see.
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