Still recovering from a ruptured Achilles, the Black Mamba's future has never been more in doubt. Not only are we unsure if he'll be able to return to form, but we're unsure of just how long he'll be able to play.
This latest injury humanized Bryant in ways he never has been before. Is it possible that it has provided him with some perspective, the kind that would give him an exact idea of when he's going to hang 'em up?
Apparently not, and he took to Twitter to make that clear.
Kobe Bryant @kobebryant
Really?? Me. Retire?? Soon, but not yet Vino still has work to do #35 #OG #kbvff2013-5-20 04:10:53
Going on 35, Bryant wants it understood that he isn't done. He seems surprised that the notion of his retirement being imminent is even being entertained.
Bryant hasn't exactly been candid about what he plans to do in the future. Depending on his mood, he's either retiring after next season or not until he's 40. He himself doesn't appear to know when he'll walk away.
In this case, that's a good thing.
Normally, Bryant's talk of retirement triggers anxiety. That he admits it's coming "soon" would usually send the Lakers faithful into a frenzy—but not now.
With him rehabilitating from such a serious injury, the NBA community should be grateful he's prepared to stay the course. Nearly two decades into his career, it would be easy for him to admit he won't play beyond next season.
Though he doesn't make any guarantees that he'll play past next year, one must assume that's the plan. If "Vino still has work to do," he cannot seriously believe he'll get all of it done next season.
Los Angeles' roster isn't yet set in stone, nor will it be for quite some time. Even if Dwight Howard re-signs, the Lakers continue to have one eye on 2014 and all the free-agency splurging they'll be able to do.
To call next season a transition year would be a bit harsh, but knowing what their plans are and that Bryant will only just be returning from his latest bout with mortality, it's unlikely that next year serves as his swan song.
However, if the Lakers managed to procure a sixth ring for the Mamba, that has the potential to change things. As is always the case with Bryant, we just don't know.
Seventeen years into his professional tenure, and he's still impossible to figure out. For now, we''ll accept that. Embrace it, even.
We're just thrilled he's prepared to play on.