Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant recently told Ken Berger of CBSsports that it was highly likely that he would retire when his current contract expires in 2014, and according to Brian Windhorst at ESPN.com the Lakers may already have a contingency plan in place if that happens.
Several NBA executives told ESPN that the Lakers were positioning themselves to acquire Miami Heat forward LeBron James if he chooses to opt out of his current contract in 2014. It makes sense when you consider how much financial flexibility the Lakers will have at that time.
Pau Gasol's $19.2 million contract will be history along with Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Jordan Hill's.
Add Bryant's to the list and the only players the Lakers will theoretically have under contract beyond the 2014 season are Steve Nash and presumably Dwight Howard.
On one hand, that's quite a big void to fill for the Lakers, but it also opens up a world of endless possibilities, especially if Bryant changes his mind.
It's possible that the Dwight Howard and Nash experience can help Bryant win a couple more championships, but what if that doesn't quench his notorious competitive fire?
In a perfect Lakers' world, Bryant would retire in two seasons and the franchise would begin their quest to rebuild the team around Howard, and possibly James, but it might get complicated if Kobe decides he wants to stick around a little longer.
Would Bryant be willing to accept the type of pay cut that it would take to pursue James, and if not would the Lakers be willing to part ways with one of the greatest players in the history of their franchise?
I've always felt that Bryant would retire as a Laker, but I'm not sure his passion and ego would allow him to recede peacefully into the sunset. Especially if he is still playing the game at an elite level in two seasons.
However, it's equally hard for me to imagine the Lakers passing up a chance to acquire the best player in the game in favor of a 37-year-old Bryant.
It might be difficult for some Lakers fans to picture Bryant in a Clippers' uniform, but it could happen if the team is forced to make a decision in 2014.
If not the Clippers, there will be plenty of other teams willing to over-pay for Bryant's services for a season or two. If a split between Bryant and the Lakers did happen there is little reason to believe it would be pretty.
Bryant has always shown respect for the Buss family, but he has never been afraid to speak his mind when moved to do so.
Bryant's trade demands following the 2007 season would pale in comparison to 2014 when it comes to the potential for residual ill will, and it would be a sad conclusion to a great period for the Lakers.
Ultimately it would come down to a business decision and James makes much more sense for the Lakers in 2014 and beyond, if he is available.
Hopefully Bryant will choose to follow through on his intentions to retire in two seasons as a Laker and still at the top of his game, because it would be painful to watch him take the same path as Michael Jordan did at the end of his career.
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