Kobe Bryant drives the lane against the Golden State Warriors. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Time and NBA defenses haven't caught up to Kobe Bryant after 16 pro seasons, but the dreaded R-word finally has.
The 34-year-old Lakers star addressed his retirement after practice Tuesday, saying he remained uncertain if he would play beyond his contract that expires after the 2013-14 season.
"We'll see where it goes," Bryant said. "It will be a lot of basketball being played."
Bryant has logged 1,161 regular-season games and 42,377 minutes in his career. He has two years and $58.3 million remaining on his contract and probably would have to take a steep discount to return for an additional season.
What might there be left to play for at that point? One possibility would be catching or surpassing the number of championships won by Michael Jordan, who has six titles on a resume widely considered the best in NBA history.
Bryant has won five championships.
What would it take for him to come back after his contract expires?
"How the hell do I know?" Bryant said. "It's three years from now."
The flood of questions about Bryant's future was prompted by his comments in a CBSSports.com story in which he said three more seasons "seems like a really long time to continue to stay at a high, high level of training and preparation and health. … [But] it's not about health necessarily. It's about, Do I want to do it? Do I have that hunger to continue to prepare at a high level?"
Bryant, fifth all-time in NBA scoring, has looked nimble in practices, dunking on several teammates and opting against having a regenerative procedure on his right knee similar to the one he had last year. He told reporters the mental drag of playing well into his 30s trumped any physical limitations.
"Physically you know what you have to do whether it's a knee injury or an ankle injury, whatever it is, you make those adjustments physically, you change your regimen a little bit, you do physical therapy," Bryant said. "The mentality of preparing year in and year out, it's going on 17 years and every off-season has been more work than the regular season, so it's a lot of work."
Two factors that could make life less stressful for Bryant in the coming years: Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
"Those guys are such fantastic players," Bryant said of the Lakers' off-season superstar acquisitions, "it would be tough to sit there and just double-team me all game long. It's just not going to happen."
Bryant seemed amenable to the suggestion that reduced minutes with such a star-packed lineup could increase his longevity. Coach Mike Brown certainly endorsed that plan.
"I might play Kobe three minutes a game, then, because I want him here for five more years," Brown joked. "We'll play him four minutes. We'll give him a minute each quarter and hopefully it stops his retirement from happening for another four years. Then I'll be good."
Bryant was unusually patient with reporters, fielding a few dozen questions on a variety of topics. He lingered until a member of the Lakers' public relations department broke up the interview, returning to the practice court to shoot free throws and work on moves with player development coach Phil Handy.
As Bryant walked away from the pack of reporters, one jokingly commented about him not even having wanted to speak with the media.
"Oh my God," Kobe said. "You guys want to ask me a million questions about what I'm going to do three years from now. I don't even know in two minutes."
Brown said the Lakers had plenty of depth at power forward in the wake of Jordan Hill's back injury that will sideline the reserve big man indefinitely.
Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark will back up starter Pau Gasol at the position.
"The sad thing about it is that we don't have enough minutes for all three of those guys," Brown said, "so we're still OK."
Hill said he would not need surgery to repair the herniated disk in his back.
Howard participated in the full-court, five-on-five portion of practice, making a long outlet pass to Bryant for a dunk and later swatting one of Chris Douglas-Roberts' shots.
"I'm getting there," said the All-Star center, who is recovering from April surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.
Howard will not play Wednesday in the Lakers' exhibition against Portland at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, but he said "when the season starts and it's go time, I'll be ready."
He said what?
Bryant scoffed at Shaquille O'Neal's recent assertion that Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez were better centers than Howard.
"That's just his job, to make opinions," Bryant said of O'Neal, the TNT analyst who was a former teammate. "I mean, Dwight is going to be one of the greatest centers of all time. To not say anything but that is laughable."
Correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.