Lakers executive Jim Buss says he is ready for Kobe Bryant to retire after this season, but the team is not shutting the door on 2016-17.
“We're going to approach it like it is, but that doesn’t mean it is,” Buss said. “I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘This is it, Kobe, you’re done,’ because it’s not my decision, it’s his decision.”
In May, general manager Mitch Kupchak said Bryant had indicated 2015–16 would be his final season. Bryant, 37, told Yahoo! Sports in early August that he had not yet decided if he would retire after this season, his 18th in the NBA.
If Bryant does decide to return, according to Buss, the Lakers will welcome him with open arms, though they will expect him to take a smaller role.
“He just has to know, at that age, and that many miles on you, what is your role?” Buss said. “We’ll explain the role, and if he still wants to do that and that’s how he wants to go out, that’s fine with me.”
Bryant, in the final year of his contract, will be the league’s highest-paid player this season at $25 million, but Buss told the Los Angeles Times that Bryant “deserves the money.”
Los Angeles finished at 21–61 in 2014–15 for its worst season in franchise history. Bryant has played in just 41 games over the last two seasons because of a fractured kneecap and a torn rotator cuff.