After missing all but six games last year, Kobe Bryant is in the midst of his worst season as an NBA player. As the 36-year-old struggles and the Los Angeles Lakers’ future continues to look bleak, questions are being asked about the possibility of Bryant retiring.
"I'd be lying if I said that it hasn't crossed my mind,'' Bryant told the Los Angeles Times. “Right now I doubt it ... but anything's possible.''
"My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don't want to do this anymore, I won't do it.”
It’s not unfathomable to think Bryant could call it a career at the end of the season. Since being drafted in 1996, the shooting guard has accomplished more than most players in NBA history. Bryant has won five championships, reaching seven NBA Finals. He’s won an MVP award, been named to 16 All-Star Games, and trails only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list, surpassing Michael Jordan this season.
In his 19th career season, Bryant isn’t as good as the player that won five titles. Coming off two major injuries that sidelined him for 76 games, he’s shooting a career-low 37.3 percent from the floor. Bryant missed the playoffs once in his first 17 seasons, and the Lakers are all but guaranteed to be watching the postseason from home for a second straight year.
Bryant’s contract extends through the 2015-2016 season, and there’s a good chance it will be another losing year for L.A. Surrounding Bryant with marginal talent, the team was unable to sign an impactful free agent in the offseason. The Lakers could have a hard time building through the draft, since their first-round pick will go to the Phoenix Suns, if it’s not among the top five selections.
Despite the way the past two seasons have gone for Bryant and the Lakers, it probably isn’t likely that the future Hall of Famer will call it quits in 2015. Head coach Byron Scott responded to the Bryant retirement talk, and didn’t seem too concerned that his star player might not be on the roster next season.
“I'm sure it's probably crossed his mind more than once, but we haven't talked about that one bit," Scott said, via ESPN.com, on Sunday.
With a year left on his contract, Bryant is owed $25 million next season. If he remains even somewhat healthy, it’s hard to imagine he’d walk away from that money.
Scott realizes that the Lakers are not winning a championship, and he could give Bryant an extended period of rest, to make sure that he’ll be at 100 percent next season. Bryant, who has complained of a sore body, has already sat out five of the team’s last nine games, and there’s a chance he’ll be on the bench near the end of the season.
“If we're nowhere near playoff contention in March...then we might discuss that," Scott said, via Mike Breshnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
After Wednesday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Bryant will have an MRI on his right shoulder.
"I've played on a torn labrum before," Bryant said. "I'm not too concerned about it."
Having won 12 of their first 43 games, there’s almost no chance that the Lakers will find themselves in the playoff hunt at any point this season. They are 13.5 games out of the eighth seed, and 23.5 games behind the division and conference-leading Golden State Warriors.
In December, Los Angeles general manager Mitch Kupchak said he expected Bryant to finish the remainder of his contract. Kupchak told nba.com “all indications” are that Bryant will retire in 2016.