Kobe Bryant is one of the most important and successful figures in Los Angeles Lakers history, but many of those within the NBA believe it is time for the organization to move on from the Black Mamba.
In an ESPN.com article by Baxter Holmes, 24 anonymous league insiders were asked about what the Lakers should do with regard to Bryant when his contract ends at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season. Only one of the 24 believe undoubtedly that L.A. should bring him back if he opts against retirement.
Per Holmes, 13 of the insiders feel as though the Lakers should part ways with Kobe no matter what, while the rest of them would be somewhat open to bringing him back provided he is healthy, willing to take on a lesser role and accepting of a pay cut.
Based on the 37-year-old star's penchant for being the alpha male over the years, however, many of those who were interviewed were skeptical that Bryant would agree to such terms, according to Holmes.
"When has he ever embraced anything even close to that over the last two-to-three years?" one scout asked. "I don't think you're going to be able to change him to be in a role that he's never been in."
Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever play the sport of basketball, with a career scoring average of 25.4 points per game, 17 All-Star nods and five championships to his credit, but he hasn't been the same player in recent years.
Kobe has played in a total of 41 games over the past two seasons, and his efficiency has plummeted, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
An anonymous executive can't see the Lakers improving until Kobe leaves due to his reputation across the league, per Holmes:
I can't believe players are saying, "I can't wait to play with Kobe Bryant." They want to play with Anthony Davis, they may want to play with Stephen Curry, they may want to play with Kevin Durant, and maybe LeBron [James] can entice people because he's the best player in the world. But Kobe can't bring anybody there.
Despite Bryant's eroding skills, he is understandably still a huge fan favorite in Los Angeles, which in turn helps make the Lakers organization a lot of money.
Even so, it is difficult to justify paying a player of his current caliber a massive salary. With that in mind, one executive believes the Lakers must low-ball Kobe in order to force him into either a smaller role or out of town, according to Holmes:
So let's say I walked in there as GM, and one of the first things I did was say, "Hey, Kobe, you're not coming back." I think that would probably play extremely poorly in the L.A. media. As a use of your political capital, that's probably not the right thing to do. It's probably better to offer him a contract at, like, say, $5 million with some strings attached -- "Hey, our expectations for you on this contract is you're going to mentor the young guys, you're going to behave in an excellent way." ... And just basically put him in a position where he's probably going to say no to you.
Then you can be like, "Look, we offered him $5 million a year. This is the type of deal that [Dirk] Nowitzki and [Tim] Duncan took. We wanted him to be part of the next wave, but we told him that he's got to be a mentor, and he probably won't be a 35-minute-a-night player, and blah, blah, blah, and he told us that doesn't appeal to him," so at least you can say you tried.
Those within the Lakers organization and fans of the team will never forget about Bryant's greatness, but there comes a time when every future Hall of Famer must accept the fact that he is on the decline.
Based on Kobe's dominance of the basketball and the Lakers' payroll, it seems as though he has yet to reach that level of acceptance.
The Lakers must put the team in the hands of young players like D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in order to move forward, and if Bryant is resistant to that, then the front office will be forced to make perhaps the toughest decision in team history by cutting ties with the Black Mamba.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.