Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant isn't ready to announce what his future holds beyond the 2015-16 season. The team legend does know he has no interest in leaving the Lakers to chase a championship with another organization, though.
Bryant is getting ready for his return to action after missing the latter stages of last season with a shoulder injury. While most of the media focus has been on his inevitable retirement, he's only concerned about the present, per Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com.
"If it is, it is," Bryant said, when asked if this is his last season. "If it isn't, I'll be ready for next season. I don't spend too much time thinking about it. I've got enough to think about."
Bryant stated, "I'm as excited for this season as I've been in a long time," and he admitted he's not sure what the deciding factor will be about whether to continue his career. The ESPN.com report also notes he sees the discussion about his future as a sign of respect rather than a possible distraction:
It could get to become a pain in the ass, but when I sit back and think about it, it's actually cool, because it means that you've had a really good career and people want to know when the time is coming for you to hang 'em up. Like me, don't like me, [but people] respect the career that I've had. I think that's a pretty damn cool thing.
When the topic turned to possibly leaving the Lakers for next season and beyond, Bryant quickly shot down the idea, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports: "A lot of players want to go to different teams or contend to win championships. I'm a Laker, man. I'm a Laker for better or worse."
New York Knicks President Phil Jackson, who coached Bryant in Los Angeles, told Yahoo Sports it sounded like the star's time with the Lakers might be winding down. The guard doesn't share that view.
"I'm a Laker, man. How many times do I have to say that?" Bryant said. "Dude, I bleed purple and gold."
Back in May, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said during an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio that Bryant had "indicated to me that this is it," according to USA Today. He also expressed doubt about more contract talks, but he didn't completely shut the door.
"I think first and foremost, he's on the last year of a deal," Kupchak said. "There have been no discussions about anything going forward. I don't think there will be. A year from now, if there's something different to discuss, then it will be discussed then."
Clearly, Bryant wants to end his career with the Lakers, regardless of whether he decides to call it quits after this season or plays for a few more years. The question is whether the team would be willing to hand him another lucrative contract. He's making $25 million during the upcoming season, per Spotrac.
A lot depends on how the body of a 37-year-old, five-time champion holds up. He's played just 41 games over the last two seasons combined. Another major injury setback could push him to walk away, even if his competitive fire is still burning.
That said, if he wants to keep playing, the contract talks with the Lakers could lead to some tension if he still expects to get paid among the league's elite.