The clock is ticking, and Kobe Bryant appears to admit that time is not on his side.
He's 33 years old. He has two years remaining on his $58-million contract. And who knows what comes after that.
But when Yahoo Sports' Graham Bensinger reminded him that Bryant mentioned during his rookie season that he would retire at age 35, the Lakers' star said "it's still probably accurate."
"That's a long time to be playing," Bryant said. "It'll be the last year of my contract. I don't know if I wll play any longer than that. I don't know. It's just a possibility. It's not something I even give it much thought to, but it's a possibility. It could happen."
How that plays out will be interesting.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak acknowledged after the NBA Draft the difficulty for anticipating Bryant's retirement. Yet the new labor deal could make it more difficult to grant Bryant the same money he's making now. Bryant is eager to collect more NBA championships to add to his five rings. But he's admitted lacking any interest in prolonging his career only to see his skills significantly diminish.
With the Steve Nash acquisition, the Lakers bolstered their NBA championship chances for at least next season. Pending any future roster moves, to what degree would that help shape how long Bryant stays in the NBA?
What happens between now and the end of his 2013-14 season should provide more clarity.
"At the end of that year, probably, I think you'll know. I'm not sure," Bryant said when asked when he'll know for sure if he'll retire. "I think you've seen so many players retire, think they know and then come back. I don't want to be one of those guys, but I know they've all said it too. It must be tougher than it sounds to be able to retire and know when that moment is actually there. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, I guess."
In the meantime, Bryant has tried maximizing his aging body.
He received an innovative procedure on his surgically repaired right knee and left ankle last summer in Germany. Bryant somehow fought through a torn ligament in his right wrist and a sore left shin last season. He finishing second in the league in scoring average, but his 43% mark from the field was his worst shooting percentage since his second NBA season.
Bryant also plans to have another innovative procedure on his knee after finishing the 2012 London Olympics, which run from July 29 to Aug. 12. Once next season approaches, Bryant hopes Nash's presence will relieve him of ball-handling duties and give him easier looks on the post and at the elbows, two variables that could significantly help Bryant conserve energy.
Regardless of how this dynamic plays out, Bryant remains cognizant of the desire to squeeze out as much as his body will allow before it's no longer possible to play at an elite level.
"I would love for people to look at my career and say I maximized everything I possibly could," Bryant said. "Every ounce of talent I had, I got the most out of it. If people say that about me, I'll be very happy."
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