And he’s also hoping Kobe calls it quits after next season.
I hope he retires, because I don’t want to see — I probably played two years too long. I hate to see Patrick Ewing, great as he was, struggle — I don’t like seeing great players just out there, you know?” Barkley said. “Michael Jordan playing for the Wizards, that didn’t do anything for me. Kobe’s obviously not going to walk away from $30 million. This should be like a farewell tour, play 20, 25 minutes a night. The Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs. Could he play some more? Yeah, of course. His best days are behind him. I hear these fools on TV, talking about, ‘Kobe’s going to get healthy.’ Old people don’t get healthy; they die. Old people don’t get healthy. Father Time is undefeated. … You can get in great shape in the summer, because you’re playing against air. Air doesn’t hit back.
Barkley makes some really good points, the most important of which rests on the Los Angeles Lakers’ direction.
Even if, by some miracle, Kobe gets healthy and nearly returns to 2012-13 form, he won’t be playing for anything special. The Lakers are rebuilding and haven’t proved to be a big enough free-agent draw that allows for an insta-turnaround.
They have D’Angelo Russell. They have Jordan Clarkson. They have Julius Randle. And yeah, in the coming summers, they’ll have cap space. But their livelihood, at least right now, is tethered just as tightly to young, inexperienced talents, the kind that have promise yet won’t be ready to compete for a playoff spot, let alone a championship, right away.
If you’re Kobe, why prolong your career when winning a sixth ring isn’t an option? You don’t.
Though he could play for another team, part of Kobe’s legend exists because he’s played for one franchise his entire career. Latching on to a ready-made contender would just warp perception of a reputation that’s already withstood plenty of blows in the wake of the analytics movement, Kobe’s present contract, and the injuries he’s been battling for the last few years.
Maybe Kobe has a bounce-back year. Maybe he could even play at a high level beyond 2015-16. But if next season proves to be some sort of post-prime renaissance for the Mamba, it’s most valuable not as justification for another contract, but a chance for him to leave on what would be the highest note possible under the circumstances.