Kobe plans to decide on retirement date this summer

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Kobe Bryant will enter the 2013-14 season in the final year of his current Lakers contract, one that will pay him over $30 million for next season.

Bryant and the Lakers could come to terms on an extension this summer, but before doing so, Bryant would first need to decide that he wishes to continue play beyond next season.

Even 17 years in, Bryant remains one of the game’s best players. As of right now, however, he’s leaning toward making his 18th NBA season his last.

From Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:

Bryant made it clear in an interview with NBA.com he expects to make a call before reporting to training camp and probably even long before that. One factor in the decision is the chance to end all the endless questions. Another is to give the Lakers clarity moving forward, in general, and particularly in conjunction with any contract talks that may take place.

“We’ll talk,” Bryant said. “I’ll talk to my family and stuff and really see if I want to continue to sacrifice as much as I’m sacrificing right now. I’m putting my body through a lot to just try to get ready to play every single night. To do what I’m doing right now, it’s not easy. I’ll tell you, it’s taken a lot of commitment.”

Is your sense that next season will be your last?

“As I sit here right now, yeah.”

Bryant has hinted many times recently that next season will be his last. The question came up again in light of his passing Wilt Chamberlain on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on Saturday.

If he remains healthy and playing even close to his current level, Bryant will pass Michael Jordan in career scoring sometime midway through next season, with only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on that list. Should Bryant decide the all-time scoring record was something he wanted to pursue, as long as he holds up physically, it’s likely he could play long enough to get it.

Despite being one of the game’s greatest scorers, however, Bryant has always measured himself by championships. Earning a sixth ring before he hangs ’em up would tie him with Jordan for career titles, which would mean much more to Bryant personally than would any individual accomplishment.