Kobe reiterates he doesn’t know if it’s his last year

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If you hear anyone saying “Kobe Bryant is going to retire after this season” or “Kobe is coming back next season” you should know they are talking out their… well, the side of their mouth. They don’t know.

How could anyone know — Kobe himself doesn’t know.

He reiterated that at Lakers media day Monday, as reported by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

“If it is, it is,” Bryant said. “If it isn’t, I’ll be ready for next season. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. I’ve got enough to think about.”

Kobe also said he doesn’t know what will ultimately sway his decision.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Bryant said. “I’ve thought about it a little bit in terms of, what is the deciding factor? How do players actually know when it’s time to hang them up, truly? Everybody kind of gives [the media] the standard cookie-cutter answers — relaxing, golfing, spending time with the family, things like that. But, really, how do you truly know? And I don’t know. I’ll have a much better answer when that time comes for me.”

He’s going to play out his 20th NBA season and see how it goes. And he’ll answer variations of the retirement question 3,674 times this season.

I disagree with Phil Jackson on one thing — if Kobe comes back for season 21, I don’t think he will play for a team other than the Lakers. While Kobe’s competitiveness and desire to add to his ring collection is unquestioned, he also is concerned about his brand and his legacy. Part of that is having played 20 years with one franchise and going down as arguably the greatest Laker ever. Kobe watched the Jordan years in Washington and said “not me.” He watched Karl Malone and Gary Payton come to the Lakers to chase rings and still fall short (Payton did get a ring in 2006 with Miami). I can’t see Kobe leaping to Cleveland/Golden State/Oklahoma City/wherever to be the fourth wheel on a contender. He’s going to ride into the sunset a Laker.

The only question is when?