Los Angeles Lakers rumors, already in high gear with the team clearly in need of major changes as it heads for its unheard-of second straight year without a playoff berth, are now likely to go into overdrive after sure-fire Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, who has anchored the Lakers for 19 seasons, gave a strong indication that retirement is in his near future.
Bryant told an Orange County Register reporter Wednesday that the 2015-2016 season — the final year of his current contract — will be his last.
Kobe: “If you asked me if I’m going to play beyond that, right now the answer is no.”
— Bill Oram (@billoram) December 31, 2014
But if 20 seasons in the NBA are enough for the 36-year-old, 6’6″ superstar out of Lower Merion High School in the Philadelphia suburbs, what does that mean for the Lakers, not in the future — but today?
Would the Lakers, sure bets to finish at or near the bottom of the Western Conference standings this year with little maneuverability that would allow them to reverse their fortunes next season, attempt to move the player who is more closely identified with the purple and gold than any player in franchise history except for the great Magic Johnson?
The catch, of course, is that Bryant can control whether he is traded, and if so, where he is likely to go. But if the years have proven anything, it’s that Kobe is a hyper-competitive personality, for whom the constant drumbeat of defeat — as the Lakers are experiencing now — must be soul-crushing.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, the new, Lebron James-driven Cavaliers are putting together a season that, while respectable, hasn’t been what the Cleveland fans or King James himself had in mind. As of New Year’s Eve, the Cavs sit in fifth place overall in the Eastern Conference, with a good-but-not-great 18-15 record.
Both James and Kevin Love have opt-out clauses in their contracts after this season. While any talk of James leaving Cleveland would appear to be a non-starter, Love may be another story.
“Of course Love will opt out,” wrote Dan Feldman of NBC Sports Pro Basketball Talk. “His 2015-16 salary is slated to be $16,744,219. But because he’d be eligible for a higher max contract due to his years of experience and the NBA salary cap is rising, Love projects to have a max salary of $18,602,898 next season.”
According to Sam Smith of NBA.com, Love has long sought to return to Los Angeles, where he played his college ball at UCLA.
Could the two teams engineer a swap that would grant Love’s wish to join the Los Angeles Lakers while creating a dream pairing in Cleveland of Bryant and James? While other rumors have Kobe possibly headed to Brooklyn in exchange for Joe Johnson — a guard-for-guard swap that makes more sense on paper — the chance to build a Cleveland powerhouse for the remainder of 2015 and into 2016, while bringing a new superstar in Love to the Lakers, may be too much to resist.