Phil Jackson believes Kobe Bryant will play after this season, but maybe not with the Lakers

By Brian Mahoney


GREENBURGH, N.Y. _ Phil Jackson doubts this is Kobe Bryant‘s final season _ though thinks it may be Bryant’s last in Los Angeles.

With Bryant going into the last season of his contract and coming off a couple of injury-shortened seasons, his future will be among the biggest questions around the NBA this season.

“I don’t think it’s his last year,” Jackson said Friday. “Sounds like it may be his last year as a Laker, but I think that’s kind of what came out of there.”

Jackson, who coached Bryant to five NBA championships with the Lakers, is now the Knicks’ president of basketball operations. He said he sent Bryant a message last month for his 37th birthday.

Bryant has played his entire career with the Lakers after they acquired his rights from Charlotte in the 1996 draft. He was limited to six games in 2013-14 because of Achilles and knee injuries, and made it through only 35 last season before shoulder surgery.

He isn’t expected to decide on his future until after this season. The Lakers are planning how they will monitor Bryant’s minutes in his 20th season.

Jackson said great players such as Bryant and Michael Jordan, who teamed with him for six championships in Chicago, can still handle the speed of the game as they get older, but “your body fails you.”

“That’s the denominator there. It’s kind of a comeuppance from God or from age,” Jackson said. “With Kobe, he’s had two seasons (that) have been aborted because of injuries. I think he’s going to be really better than people think, and I think there will still be a future for him as he goes through this season and into next year, where people are going to ask, ‘Do you still want to play basketball?’ So we’ll see how it goes.”

Bryant is the NBA’s No. 3 career scorer, and there would likely be interest if he wants to play on _ perhaps even from the Knicks. Jackson is rebuilding a club that went 17-65 last season and could use scoring help beyond Carmelo Anthony.

Jackson left the Lakers and coaching after the 2010-11 season, though maintains a nearby home and is engaged to Lakers President Jeanie Buss. Knicks coach Derek Fisher, Bryant’s longtime teammate, shook his head and said “nah” when he and Jackson were asked if they thought this would be Bryant’s farewell.

“I just want him to be healthy, basically, and then go from there,” Fisher said. “I personally wouldn’t like this to be his last year playing basketball. I don’t think that the game of basketball deserves for him not to play.”

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