Bryant has two years left on his contract, and next season he is scheduled to become just the second player ever to earn more than $30 million in a season. The other was Michael Jordan.
Whether or not you believe the ultra-competitive Bryant will follow through with that retirement plan, his statements seem to be a sign that a contract extension or new contract is no sure thing.
In the wake of the Howard trade, much as been made of the massive luxury-tax bill the Lakers are facing next season if they're able to re-sign the big man. ESPN.com salary cap expert Larry Coon has estimated the Lakers could be on the hook for as much as $85 million just in taxes in 2013-14.
But look a little further, to that 2014-15 season, and you'll see something else: The Lakers' projected payroll is almost completely clear. Only Nash is signed for that season, at $9.7 million, though the Lakers will also be paying about $20 million to Howard if they can re-sign him this coming summer.
In July 2014, Bryant's $30.4 million, Pau Gasol's $19.2 million, Metta World Peace's $7.7 million, Steve Blake's $4 million and Jordan Hill's $3.5 million will come off the books. There likely won't even be any first-round draft picks filling up the cap, either, as the Lakers have already traded their 2013 first-round pick to Phoenix in the Nash deal.
Opposing teams that are making their own long-range free agency plans think they see the Lakers' plan coming into focus. As it stands, L.A. will have enough cap space to add a superstar like James.
"It's not a mistake that all those deals end the same year Kobe's does. They have probably been planning for their next phase for a while," said one general manager. "The Busses and [Lakers GM] Mitch [Kupchak] are always thinking about the next big deal."
No one knows this better than Bryant himself, who has been the beneficiary of the Lakers' aggressive maneuvers for 16-plus years.
"I knew how much the Buss family, Jeanie and so forth, wanted to turn it around," Bryant told CBSSports.com. "I've seen them do it. They rebuilt first by picking up Shaq. ... Then that era was over and they rebuilt again. And now they've rebuilt again. I've seen them do it before."