Kobe Bryant & Los Angeles Lakers: Would Black Mamba Leave the 'Gold and Purple' for a Title Shot? [POLL]
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We can't all be Derek Jeter.
Video montages at every Major League ballpark. Surf boards and cowboy boots as parting gifts. A seven-month-long farewell tour that brought even the most ardent of Red Sox fans to pay homage.
Few athletes attain the perfect mix of notoriety, success, and prestige to garner such an honor. Then again, few brands become bigger than the athletes they're modeled after.
Therein lays Kobe Bryant's dilemma over the next two seasons. Should the 18-year veteran stay in Los Angeles long enough to receive a Jeter-esque farewell or should Bryant taint his legacy as a Laker by chasing his sixth NBA title elsewhere?
Bryant is one championship short of tying Michael Jordan for third on the league's all-time scoring list, a goal he'll never admit to coveting. Heading into the 2014-15 season, Bryant needs just 592 points to tie Jordan which, barring injury, he should pass between December and January. If Bryant averaged 21 points per game through the season's first two months, the tie-breaking basket may come at Chicago's United Center on Christmas Day.
If padding personal accolades isn't Bryant's goal, staying in L.A. is a no-brainer. The 36-year-old guard doesn't need a playoff caliber-team to pass Jordan, or to chase Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's league-record 38,387 points. Never mind a bench spot, Bryant starts until his retirement and the franchise wouldn't question it.
Kobe's current contract...
And maybe there's something to that. When Bryant and the Lakers agreed to his current two-year, $48.5 million contract, Bryant could have taken less money. He could have gone the Tim Duncan route; take a substantial pay cut to build a better team. Instead, Bryant took the Lakers' offer, not that there's anything wrong with that. He is a business man, after all.
But Bryant aims for something more. Something the Lakers' inauspicious roster can't atone for. Bryant's a pathological competitor; nothing short of a title will satiate that.
Shortly after passing Shaquille O'Neal on the all-time scoring list in Feb. 2012, Bryant was asked about potentially passing Abdul-Jabbar. Bryant quipped "I'm not asking for too much, man. Just give me the sixth ring, damn it."
Some of Kobe's foes...
While on location for an ESPN World Cup telecast last summer, Bryant opined into Duncan possibly winning a sixth championship. "If you ask me if I'm okay with Tim doing it, I'm not," Bryant said. The straightforward demeanor, Bryant's monotone voice, said enough about the five-time champion's competitive urge.
Duncan has Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who, albeit on the wrong side of 30, still perform at an All-Star level. Bryant has Steve Nash, the injury-plagued 40-year-old who threw out his back moving luggage. He has Carlos Boozer, the journeyman power forward Chicago incessantly tried trading before releasing into free agency. Bryant has Nick Young set to be the Lakers' sixth man, though Young won't see any action until December after undergoing surgery on his right thumb.
These are Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers: an aging team who may not have a first-round draft pick until 2017 thanks to egregious deals for Nash and Dwight Howard. Even if the Lakers land a game-changing free agent next summer, they won't be any closer to a championship.
For someone with nine All-Defensive First Team nominations, 16 All-Star game appearances, one NBA MVP, and over 53,600 minutes played- including playoffs- Bryant shouldn't have to retire into mediocrity.
Bryant recently told Yahoo Sports that "you want to feel like you walked away on your terms." Those terms may not involve the Lakers. Bryant wouldn't be the first NBA player to leave the only franchise he's even known.
Karl Malone joined Los Angeles after 18 years in Utah. Malone and the Jazz couldn't beat the Bulls in back-to-back finals. Instead, he joined Bryant and O'Neal in a one-and-done season that unceremoniously ended in Detroit.
Jordan's second retirement lasted all of three seasons before a not-so-surprising return, this time as a Washington Wizard. Granted, Jordan didn't return for a ring- he donated his 2001-02 salary to Sept. 11 efforts- but that doesn't take away from a desire to compete; to be the best, regardless of age.
If Jordan dispelled the notion that he should retire a Bull, what's to stop Bryant from doing the same?
In two years, the Lakers will contemplate re-signing 37-year-old Bryant to a max contract. Anything less would be an insult to the future Hall of Famer. If Bryant believes he's still competing at a premium level, it would be in each party's best interest to go their separate ways.
The Lakers could rebuild and Bryant would search for that Jordan-tying title away from the purple and gold. Think of what an Oklahoma City or Golden State could do with Bryant coming off the bench. Who's to say he can't switch locker rooms and play alongside Chris Paul?
Then again, Bryant said he wants to go out on his terms. Playing second-fiddle to Paul won't work. Neither will backing up Russell Westbrook. Only Bryant determines whether chasing a sixth ring is worth the trouble. Only Bryant decides whether he wants to go out like Jeter.
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