One of the biggest questions heading into this season for the Los Angeles Lakers is whether or not this will be Kobe Bryant’s final season. Kobe himself has said that he isn’t sure, and doesn’t plan on making the decision until after this season.
With this being Kobe’s 20th season in the NBA and his contract running out at the end of the season, it would make sense for him to call it quits after this year. Though it is still unknown, Executive VP of Basketball Operations Jim Buss told Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times that the franchise will approach this season as if it is Kobe’s final one:
We’re going to approach it like it is, but that doesn’t mean it is,” Buss said of Bryant. “I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘This is it, Kobe, you’re done,’ because it’s not my decision, it’s his decision.”
Buss also told Pincus that he would be fine if Kobe returns after the season, but that his role may have to change:
My arms are like this,” Buss said, holding his arms wide open, about Bryant’s future. “He just has to know, at that age, and that many miles on you, what is your role? We’ll explain the role, and if he still wants to do that and that’s how he wants to go out, that’s fine with me.”
It sounds as if the Lakers will be open to Kobe returning to the team beyond this season, but it is important to note that Buss is talking about changing Kobe’s role if he were to return. At this point in his career, Kobe can’t carry a team anymore and the Lakers have to start grooming the next stars to take Kobe’s place.
The team has begun investing in the future with players like Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell and it is important that their development is not stunted because the team chooses to appease Kobe.[divide]