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Kobe enters season with more questions than answers

In Bryant's 20th -- and possibly final -- season, Lakers legend faces task of leading young, but talented roster

POSTED: Sep 28, 2015 9:22 PM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell


Media Day: Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant talks with David Aldridge during Lakers media day before beginning his 20th season in the league.

— Obviously you want to know if he's still bloodthirsty after 19 years of NBA tread, and if he'll bring the bounce of a gazelle this season following an assortment of injuries, and if he's able to elevate a Lakers team currently undergoing a youthful transition, and most of all, if This Is It for one Kobe Bean Bryant.

Well, he'd like to know, too.

Here's what we can surmise about Kobe at this very moment: His bread and butter move isn't a step-back jumper or a floater in the lane or a 25-footer with a hand in his grill. His signature move is a shrug.

"Not sure," he said. "Big question mark."

That's his stock answer right now to the most pressing training camp questions involving him and, to a lesser extent, the short-range view of the Lakers, who did not and could not surround him with enough championship-level talent here in what could be his walk-away season. Once again, then, Kobe is one of the league's most fascinating players even if he isn't the best or among the best anymore.

I'm as excited for this season as I've been any season.

– Kobe Bryant

Maybe it's just Kobe being coy, or maybe, as he insisted, he's as stumped as ever.

"I'm as excited for this season as I've been any season," he said, before adding that it's also the most unsure he's ever felt in an NBA uniform. He has played only 41 games the last two seasons mainly due to a repaired Achilles and suddenly, the most durable of stars appears vulnerable. He's also on the final year of his contract which, of course, invites heavy speculation about retirement next spring.

"Maybe it is, maybe it isn't," he said.

GameTime: Lakers Update

Rick Kamla and Dennis Scott take a look at the signing of Metta World Peace and the mindset of NBA Champion Kobe Bryant.

Or maybe you can go another route, as his former coach Phil Jackson did when he volunteered to throw a log on the fire by suggesting Kobe could play in another uniform next season.

"Everybody's going to have an opinion," Kobe said. "That's his opinion."

And Kobe's opinion?

"Hell if I know."

The other mysteries involving Kobe here in the sunset: How good is he, and can he adjust his game and mindset? The first one is tricky. Last we saw Kobe, he was an inefficient shooter who struggled to create space between him and his defender, and only occasionally showcased the unstoppability that defined most of his career. And this was before he limped off the court last season after 35 games. Kobe shot 37 percent, by far the worst of his career, yet still managed to gun enough to average 22.3 points. That's an awful lot of bad shots, and hinted that Kobe stubbornly lacks the willingness to defer to others, something that has dogged him since the Shaq Years.

This begs inspection, because the Lakers are trying to develop players for the future, when Kobe won't be around. That means D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle in short time must either command enough of Kobe's respect to see the ball, or Kobe underwent a personality transplant during his time off and is suddenly anxious to share.

If Kobe drifts back to yesteryear, then he'll only feed the notion that the Lakers can't truly improve and move forward until Kobe moves on. And that will be the elephant in the room when or if he and owner Jim Buss convene next summer about his future with the club.

Count new Clippers forward Paul Pierce among the many skeptics; just last week Pierce, same age as Kobe at 37, took a poke from across town and said "that will be tough on some guys in L.A. to take on that (reduced) role, 'cough Kobe cough,' I mean, you know as we get older."

Even now, almost two decades later, you can sense that this remains a sensitive subject with Kobe, who was only too willing to bristle when the F-word (facilitator) was raised on the day camp opened.

"I don't know what that means," he said. "Whether that means scoring a lot more or assisting a lot more, it depends on the identity the team takes on. It's my responsibility to plug in the holes and pick up where we're lacking."

Translated: Let me do what I need/want to do.

In that sense, Kobe hasn't changed, after all these years, and won't. The body may creak a bit more and he'll certainly get nights off and his All-Star appearances could be in the rear view, but the mind remains sharp and strong.

"My philosophy has always been, 'whatever you are asked to do, try to be the best at it.' Whatever that role is. You've got to figure it out to the best of your ability."

Kobe Talks Life After The NBA

Kobe Bryant talks about getting motivated for another season and his plans for life after basketball.

He admitted to speaking with retired Yankee star Derek Jeter about retirement and how to approach that, and what Kobe took away from that conversation is this: There won't be a retirement tour.

"He and I couldn't be more opposite," Kobe said.

But retirement has crossed his mind.

"I've thought about it a little bit. How do players exactly know when to hang it up? I don't know. I'll have a much better answer when the time comes. I understand people want to know when it's time to hang it up, but I don't dwell on it too much."

And then he says this:

"There's a lot to think about, a lot of things to solve."

So there you have it. Kobe will enter the season hauling big questions, none of which can be resolved or answered until fall turns into spring and then summer. Sometimes those answers ultimately come to you, rather than you seeking them out. They tap you on the shoulder and either say "time's up" or "one more." They let you know where you stand.

All Kobe has right now is the gift of reflection, of a career that will whisk him to Springfield, of someone who came into the NBA as a teenager and now is trusted with the task of developing teenagers on his team. And to that coincidental journey, he says this:

"It went by fast."

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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