Over the span of the past calendar year, a question has been posed that no one expected to hear or read: Should the Los Angeles Lakers re-sign Kobe Bryant after the 2013-14 season? Bryant has been a Laker since 1996, but has become one of the most polarizing players in basketball.
With all factors weighed, there's no question that Bryant should remain in Los Angeles after 2013-14.
The Lakers are preparing for an organization-altering period of free agency in 2014, as both Bryant and Pau Gasol become unrestricted free agents. Splitting Bryant and Gasol up would mark the end of an era that has included two NBA championships and three Finals appearances.
According to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, Kobe's time with the organization will end once he chooses to retire.
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 shouldn't be any other way.
There's no question that Bryant is a player that the younger generation has a difficult time adjusting to playing with. He's a ball-dominant scoring guard who, even when his shot isn't falling, will continue to take control of a game.
The fact of the matter is this: Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever live and deserves to leave Los Angeles on his own terms.
During his 17 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe has carved out one of the most impressive resumes in NBA history. He's scored 31,617 points, has been a member of 15 All-NBA, 12 All-Defensive and 15 All-Star teams, and has won one league MVP and two Finals MVP awards.
Plain and simple, Bryant is an active legend.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Bryant is one of four players in NBA history to register at least 30,000 points, 5,000 assists and 5,000 rebounds. The only other three players on the list are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.
Should the Los Angeles Lakers re-sign Kobe Bryant after 2013-14?
For perspective, only 12 players have ever tallied at least 20,000 points, 5,000 assists and 5,000 rebounds, per Basketball-Reference.com.
During his time with the organization, the Lakers have reached the playoffs in all but one season. L.A. has won five NBA championships and reached the NBA Finals seven times, with Bryant playing a critical role, if not leading the team, in each of those seasons.
Bryant may be aging and coming off of a devastating Achilles tendon injury, but he's done as much for this organization as anyone ever will. Even in 2012-13, when the Lakers started 17-25, Bryant led L.A. to the playoffs by averaging 28.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists after the All-Star Break.
For the season, Bryant led all shooting guards in scoring, assists and rebounds. Slow down James Harden fans, Kobe is still on top.
So why get rid of a player whose "waning years" are better than the average superstar's best?
Mountains of Revenue
This may not be important to fans or analysts, but making money is the end goal for owners of an NBA organization. Winning championships is a close second, and may even earn a tie for first, but without a profit there is no National Basketball Association.
Like it or not, Bryant is still one of the most profitable athletes in the world.
Bryant is ranked No. 4 on the top-selling jersey list during the 2013 NBA regular season, behind Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, per USA TODAY Sports. Seventeen years in, that's one of the most impressive numbers you'll ever see.
After all, you'd think that everyone who wants a Kobe jersey would have one after 17 seasons.
Forbes reports that Bryant is one of the 100 most marketable celebrities in the world, regardless of their area of profession. He ranks higher than any other NBA player in that regard, with only LeBron James coming close.
Unless the Lakers want to lose their greatest cash cow, re-signing Bryant is the smartest route to take.
Like it or not, the NBA is a superstar-driven league in which the most successful teams are those with the best leader. Even as teams such as the Denver Nuggets have risen out of small markets, we've seen said organizations suffer early postseason exits due to the absence of a transcendent player.
Lakers fans are eternally optimistic that any big name in basketball will want to play in Los Angeles, but until one signs the dotted line there's no reason to let Kobe walk.
Admittedly, much of this specific argument is based upon how well Bryant performs once he returns from Achilles tendon surgery. Should he continue to produce at the level we've come to expect, there isn't much of a debate to be had.
There would be cause for concern if Kobe's production takes a steep hit, but even then there wouldn't be too much to talk about.
The worst case scenario is that Bryant's body forces him to rely upon his teammates through the first three quarters. As we saw during Jordan's years with the Washington Wizards, the clutch gene will still remain and one's ability to lead transcends time.
Just as Kupchak and Bryant have agreed upon, there's no reason to let Kobe walk. Not after 2013-14.