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NBA PM: Will Kobe Bryant Walk Away?

Retirement has to be on Kobe Bryant’s mind after this latest set back… Wizards are pursuing Ray Allen.

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What has been one of the most frustrating and difficult seasons in the illustrious career of Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant just got worst. Today, an MRI revealed that he has a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, which he suffered in the second half of last night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Bryant stayed in the contest after the injury, utilizing his left hand primarily and seemingly brushed off the injury postgame as no big deal.

A torn rotator cuff is a big deal, though, and something that typically requires surgery to repair. Bryant could try to rest and rehabilitate it, but given that it’s his shooting arm and how important mobility in it is, surgery may be necessary. A firm decision and timetable for his recovery is going to be set on Friday. The Lakers have lost six straight and 12 of their last 15 games. Bryant, due to exhaustion from too heavy of a workload early in the season, has been in and out of the lineup in order to allow his body to recover and avoid another serious injury. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out as planned. Even with the recent rest, Bryant still had a major setback for the third consecutive year.

Three serious injuries in three years after 19 years in the league would send a lot of guys into retirement. However, as we know by now, Bryant isn’t normal by any definition of the word. He’s cut from a different cloth, fueled by his desire to be the best and motivated by those who don’t think that he’ll ever compete for a championship again.

At the same time, though, every man has limits. At some point, everyone has to retire and walk away from the game. Bryant has one-year left on his contract and is owed over $20 million next season, which is going to make it very difficult to retire a year early. He’s also made more money than he can spend in multiple lifetimes, so it’s not out of the question that he could walk away either. Bryant doesn’t want to be another legend who hangs around too long. He’s always said if he can’t hold his own, he’ll walk away before tarnishing his legacy.

Bryant had his moments this year. He was leading the league in scoring early on, but was doing so with career low marks in efficiency. With a lackluster supporting cast, it quickly became evident that Bryant couldn’t carry this team beyond already-low expectations. He was out there more to prove to everyone, himself included, that he could still play the game at a high level after a torn Achilles and broken bone in his knee and serve as a leader for a young, inexperienced group. The Lakers were always lottery bound no matter what, though.

And, there’s no guarantee they’re going to be much better next year. The loss of Bryant, potentially for the rest of the season, does greatly increase their odds of keeping their first-round pick, which is owed to Phoenix if it’s outside of the top five. Another high lottery pick is exactly what they need to get back on track eventually, but not by next year. The Lakers will have enough cap space to go after a max-level free agent. If they’re able to land one of the big fish on the market, their chances to crack the top eight next year become better, but the market is going to be thin with very stiff competition out there for the likes of Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rajon Rondo. And, despite the critics who think Bryant’s departure would help the Lakers lure top-tier guys back to Hollywood, his questionable health could actually scare off the max level guys looking for a situation where they can win right away, not encourage them to sign on.

Of lesser importance, Bryant’s injury also impacts the Western Conference All-Star lineup. He’s poised to be named a starter tonight, but he’s going to be forced into a spectator role for the second-straight season. That’s going to open up a spot for Commissioner Adam Silver to name an injury replacement. First, the reserves will have to be selected by the coaches. Then, Silver will come in and tap a replacement. So, until the reserves are named, it’s impossible to speculate over who could end up taking Bryant’s spot. As a starter, though, James Harden is a pretty safe bet to get the nod. He was just behind Kobe in the voting and is one of the leading Most Valuable Player contenders this year.

As for his future with the Lakers, even after a decision is made on how to attack the torn rotator cuff and a timetable for recovery is set, don’t expect any type of definitive answer from Bryant. His initial response will probably be the same as it usually is. He’ll want to respond to this challenge and play out his contract. But, he recently showed signs of having some normalcy to him when he admitted that he’s thought about retiring before the end of next season. That was before this setback. Another lengthy trip through rehab has to bring that thought back to the forefront.

Don’t Rule out the Wizards: According to Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy, the Washington Wizards are the most aggressive team in pursuit of inactive sharpshooter Ray Allen. Reports surfaced recently that while out due to injury Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James reached out to Allen to recruit him, but the Wizards have another player close to Allen in Paul Pierce who they’re hoping can help him persuade him to comeback for one last big run.

The Wizards are one of the dark horses in the Eastern Conference and actually have a better record than the favored-Cavaliers at 29-14. They’re second in the Eastern Conference, and seem to have a bigger role for Allen than the Cavaliers, who recently acquired J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks.

Kennedy also stated that Allen has not made a decision yet and that making his retirement permanent remains an option. For now, though, the window for a comeback is still open as he is working out in Miami.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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