Kobe Bryant continued to leave the door ajar for playing beyond this coming season in an interview with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, saying that he thinks it’s a decision that he’ll need to make after this season is through and not before it. It jibes with what he said in March, when he wouldn’t rule out continuing to play but said he probably wouldn’t decide until his contract is up at season’s end.
“[GM Mitch Kupchak and I] haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely,” Bryant said to Spears. “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.’”
The ability to tap into the rising cap next summer for a new contract will have “zero” bearing on his decision, Bryant told Spears. The 19-year veteran, who turns 37 this month, will once again make the NBA’s highest salary this season, with $25MM coming his way.
The end of his NBA career might not be the end of his time as a player, as Bryant said in response to a question that he can envision himself playing in Italy or China at some point. For now, Bryant is optimistic about the Lakers’ chances of making the playoffs and praised the team’s offseason, as Spears relays.
“They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years.” Bryant said. “I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve. How quickly can we get going? How quickly can we bring up [D’Angelo] Russell, [Julius] Randle. [Jordan] Clarkson got valuable experience last year in playing that will benefit us tremendously. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to running with these young guns.”
Hibbert was a trade acquisition, not a free agent signing, but it nonetheless seems like Bryant is on board with what the front office is doing, and it appears that Bryant’s spirit of cooperation extends to the coaching staff, too. Lakers coach Byron Scott said recently that Bryant, who turns 37 this month, will probably see time at power forward, and while Spears asked Bryant’s thoughts about playing small forward, the Mamba made it clear that position matters little to him.