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.
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.
Kupchak: "Kobe's made it clear that he intends to retire (as a Laker) and we feel same way."— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 25, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Can you really see Kobe leaving L.A.?
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.