There Is Still Chance Kobe Bryant Ends Career with Someone Other Than LA Lakers

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2013

Feb 10, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 107-97. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant has been dominating, snarling and winning with the Los Angeles Lakers for 17 years, totaling five championship rings and attaining the franchise lead in scoring along the way.

But after the 2013-14 season, Bryant could potentially leave L.A.

It’s barely even fathomable to think of him in colors other than purple and gold, but—as crazy as it sounds—it’s a possibility.

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers, wearing an NBA Green Week T-shirt, sits on the bench before playing against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 10, 2013 at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User e
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

If the Lakers and Bryant, who are not currently in any form of contract talks according to the Los Angeles Times, can’t reach an extension by July, No. 24 will be free to sign wherever his cold-blooded heart desires.

But Bryant says that he wants to retire as a Laker, and the team has reciprocated that desire.

Just like Michael Jordan wanted to retire with the Chicago Bulls, and Paul Pierce wanted to finish his career with the Boston Celtics.

It’s really not uncommon for superstar players to swap teams. LeBron James famously left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat three years ago and has a shot at winning his third consecutive title with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2014.

Bryant won’t beg, plead or cry if L.A. decides to take the franchise in another direction and choose not to re-sign him next summer. He won't have trouble finding a new home.

It would be a bold, yet somewhat understandable, decision by the team, which currently only has Nick Young, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre on the payroll in 2014-15.

And the free agency class will be absolutely loaded next summer. LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Dirk Nowitzki could all potentially hit the market that summer.

Dec 29, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) and New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the game at the Staples Center. The Lakers defeated the Knicks 99-82. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Even at 35 years old, Bryant was truly spectacular last season, finishing with 27.3 points, six assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. But he’s coming off of an injury that has decimated players younger than him (Isiah Thomas, for example), and Los Angeles isn’t going to throw a ton of money at him if he isn't healthy and sacrifice a shot at a younger superstar.

If Bryant really wants to win in L.A., he’ll have to take a pay cut.

The Lakers, as currently assembled, are not going to win a championship, despite what Metta World Peace told Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York.

However, if the Mamba asked for an extension worth $10-12 million per year, which was essentially the type of money James took in 2010 when he signed with Miami, it’d give the team room to sign two big-time free agents (via the Los Angeles Times).

Apr 12, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) is looked at by a medical staff member against the Golden State Warriors during the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Bryant is too proud to let his check take a hit. Maybe the team decides to let him walk. Anything could happen. But regardless, Bryant is sure to get some serious offers if he does indeed reach free agency.

Any basketball team in the world would want Kobe Bryant. But there’s only a few teams in the NBA that could afford to put up the type of money he’s seeking.

The Dallas Mavericks would be Bryant’s best option outside of Los Angeles. The team only has six players on the books for 2014-15 and would be in a position to perhaps sign an additional star to play alongside Bryant and Nowitzki, who’d also be a FA, if all three took a pay cut.

Although the Mamba clashed with Dallas' Mark Cuban this season, the outspoken owner would certainly be willing to give the Mamba and Nowitzki the reins to the team in an attempt at one last title run for the both of them.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers talks with Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks during the East & West All-Star Practice on center Court at Jam Session presented by Adidas during NBA All-Star Weekend at the Los Angele
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Nowitzki is like a super-Pau Gasol, with whom Bryant has already won two rings. Each would be over 36 years old at the time, but their games are so complementary of each other that it’d be hard to see them struggling, especially with the team they'd be playing on.

Monta Ellis is raw but known for offensive explosions, and Jose Calderon is a high-quality point guard who last year averaged about 11 points and seven assists per game. Plus, there's potential for getting another star through free agency.

Dallas would provide the best destination for Bryant if he is spurned by the Lakers, but L.A. would still give him the best chance at one last championship—especially if he sacrificed some money.

In a perfect world, Bryant will come out this season and prove that he’s still an elite shooting guard despite the Achilles injury and consequently agree to re-sign with the Lakers before free agency hits.

But don’t rule out the idea of Bryant going elsewhere.

It might sound crazy, but a couple of years from now Kobe might be making a run at a sixth title on a team other than the one he's been playing with for 17 years.

There is still a lot left to be unfolded in this story, but 2014 could be Bryant's last season with the L.A. Lakers.


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