THE LAST SEASON OF THE BLACK MAMBA?

It’s one of the burning questions the NBA season: will 37-year old Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s legendary players, finally call it quits after a sterling 20-year NBA career?

Let’s take a look at four factors that could possibly push Kobe Bryant into retiring after this season.

FACTOR #1: DECLINING SKILL SET
Kobe Bryant is more than aware that he’s no longer the player that he used to be. Unfortunately, his reaction to that awareness is to deny it and try to prove it false. That’s leads to him putting up horrible numbers on a team that’s lost 5 of its first 6 games.

Bryant’s season stat line seems respectable enough: 16.2 ppg 2.6 apg and 3.8 rpg. But that’s before you realize that he gets his 16 points on 32% shooting and, worse, on 21% from the 3pt line. His threeepoint percentage is especially horrible since he’s shooting almost 8 threepointers a game. For context, Kevin Durant is only shooting around 7 threepointers per game and he’s hitting 42% of those.

When Kobe Bryant finally accepts (or when the league’s better players force him to accept) that his skill set has deteriorated enough for him to no longer dominate the league, he’ll more than likely hang up his laces.

FACTOR #2: CONTRACTS

The Lakers have been known as a team who will spend money to earn money (or, in this case, championships).  They’ve never shied away from spending money going after superstar free agents (Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard come to mind) and that’s not likely to change soon.

The problem now is whether Kobe Bryant will finally accept that he isn’t a max contract player. Right now, he is the highest paid player in the league, with a 25million dollar contract. Is he worth it? Based on performance, not even close. On reputation, maybe. But games aren’t won on reputation.

If Kobe Bryant wants to play a couple more years, the Lakers should offer him a respectable veteran’s deal, maybe in the 10-12million dollar range and offer big bucks to whoever they deem to be Kobe’s successor (Kevin Durant, anyone?). If Kobe can’t deal with that, then he will likely retire.

FACTOR #3: CHAMPIONSHIP WINDOW
Simply said, if the Lakers start winning this year, Kobe Bryant will be back. All it takes is for the Lakers to miss the playoffs by a couple of games or, God forbid, sneaks into the 8th seed before being swept, Kobe Bryant will see it as the Lakers being 1 more year or 1 more piece away from being championship contenders.

If he starts thinking that, it can motivate him to be more sensible about his salary, all in the hopes that he can add another championship to his belt.

FACTOR #4: LEGACY
This year, Kobe Bryant has been ranked by ESPN as the 93rd best player in the league. That means you could build 7 full All-Star teams before you get to Bryant and he’d still be the 8th best-ranked player on that 8th team of pseudo-All Stars.

Bryant’s last few playing years have been plagued by leg-related injuries, which have robbed him of his jumping ability, athleticism and foot speed. Now, he has to rely more on guile, court positioning, shooting, and veteran moves to get his points.

And that isn’t like the Black Mamba. Kobe Bryant is one of the most cerebral players in the NBA. He, of all people, is highly aware of what happens to fading stars. He knows the importance of leaving an untarnished legacy. Once Kobe realizes that he can’t live up to the first 17 years of his legacy, he’ll finally call it quits.

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