In a recent interview with Ken Berger of CBS Sports, Bryant indicated that his days in the league could be over sooner than some people might think. His contract is up in two years, and he could be ready to retire when it runs out.
"It's just that three more years seems like a really long time to continue to stay at a high, high level of training and preparation and health," Bryant said. "That's a lot of years. For a guard? That's a lot of years."
At 34 years old, Bryant is about to begin his 17th season. He entered the league right out of high school, and because of his playoff success, he’s played a lot of games in his career. He’s 19th all-time in minutes played during the regular season, and second all-time in the playoffs. With all the wear and tear that Bryant has put on his body, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he might not play into his 40’s.
"I said when I was 17 that I'd be done when I was 35. It shouldn't be anything new," said Bryant, "It's inevitable. It's got to come. I'm not going to play 25 years."
The future Hall of Famer has accomplished a lot in his career. Bryant has made 14 All-Star teams, won two MVP awards and won five NBA titles. If he retired today, he would be considered one of the best players in basketball history.
Even with all his success, there might be one thing that could keep Bryant around for a few more years. Michael Jordan has one more ring than Bryant, and the perception is that the L.A. star wants to win more championships than Jordan by the time his career is done.
If Bryant’s motivation is to win seven titles, there’s a very good chance he’ll play after his current contract expires. Starting in 2014, Bryant could begin signing one-year contracts with the Lakers and retire when he gets his seventh ring.
It’s not unreasonable to think that L.A. could win multiple championships over the next few years. They traded for both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, and have four potential All-Stars with Bryant and Pau Gasol in the starting lineup. At most sportsbooks, Los Angeles is the favorite to represent the West in the NBA Finals.
Bryant’s comments may have worried some Lakers fans. He’s been the face of the team for almost two decades, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in points scored. The guard, however, is just worried about the upcoming season.
"It's three years from now guys. I'm not like counting down the days. That time will come. It's inevitable."
Bryant and the Lakers open up the 2012 season when they host the Dallas Mavericks on Oct.30.