Monday, February 21, 2011

Could Kobe Bryant Retire At the End of the Season?

This is based on nothing but a theory. Seriously, could Kobe Bryant hang it up after this season? It isn't as crazy as it sounds.

Kobe Bryant embraced the 2011 All Star Game experience in Los Angeles. He said several times about this being his last All Star Game in front of those LA fans. While that is probably true since the game won't be back in Los Angeles during the rest of Kobe's career (assuming that he actually did play five to seven more years), it looked a lot like he was seizing the few All Star opportunities he could.

The reason reasoning behind a possible Kobe retirement is the Lakers, themselves. By all accounts, this is coach Phil Jackson's final season with the Lakers. While I may not have 100% believed that at the beginning of the year, I can pretty much bank on it now. This team is dragging towards a hopeful three-peat. If it didn't have Phil and his unique abilities, this team would have imploded already.

Imagine a Phil-less Lakers. You have Kobe, the moody Pau Gasol, the moody Andrew Bynum, the moody Lamar Odom, the nuts-o Ron Artest and the aging Derek Fisher (more on his later). This team has a NBA all-time superstar, a notorious "warrior" who dabbles in rap, a guy married to a reality star that could get into one himself and the top player in the NBAPA.

If Phil left that, what will happen to this team? Phil is the glue. Kobe knows this. He knows it so well that he begged for Phil to come back to LA even after Phil blasted him in a book. He also knows that horrible feeling that he experienced in that poor 2004-2005 season -- the only Lakers season that Phil hasn't coached since 1999-2000.

A guy like Kobe knows about windows. He'll know that no Phil could mean that the Lakers become just another team. Where Kobe's at in his career, that doesn't sit well. Kobe, who has five NBA championships and hopes to add another in purple and gold, doesn't want to be on a declining team that is staring up at the Spurs, Mavs, Thunder, Blazers, etc. He's also spent all of All Star Weekend hearing about a different guy that calls Staples Center home: Blake Griffin.

He could do the Michael Jordan or John Elway move and retire while on top. While the Lakers may not win the ring this year, retiring after this season would mean he goes out near the top of his game.

There is also that little labor dispute stuff that could screw with the 2011-2012 season. This could get ugly and may actually result in something similar to the 1998-1999 season where they played just a 50-game season with many teams having to deal with back-to-back-to-back nights where they only played conference games. Remember that Jordan retired after the 1998 season just before that abbreviated 1999 season.

Kobe could see that in a variety of ways. He could say that a schedule packed full of games would really wear on his aging basketball body. He could think that if the owners get what they want, the Lakers talent level could suffer. If the season was cancelled, he just lost a season in his final stretch of his career.

If Kobe retired after the season, he'd have at least 5 NBA Championships, 2 Finals MVP awards, one regular season MVP award, the all-time leading scorer in Lakers history, in the top 8 all-time scorers in NBA history, the 81 point game against the Raptors and 4 All-Star MVPs. Not a bad haul, eh?

He'd also retire with two chronically bum knees and a finger that is pointing the wrong way. He'll just be 32 years old but would have tons of miles on him.

Now, I wouldn't bet on any of this. Kobe is a competitor and can easily find reasons to keep chugging along. But he's also a perfectionist and if he sees his own skills declining, he may decide to hang 'em up before he turns into a broken-down-has-been.

If this weekend showed us anything, it is that we have a ton of new stars waiting to break out. Guys like Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin were the talk of the town while guys like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James get more pub. Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are the future of the league.

So maybe Kobe will pass the torch and ride off into the sunset. Just sayin'.

1 comment:

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