Kobe Bryant is skeptical about the ongoing labor strife in the NBA. As the neither the National Basketball Players Association nor the NBA and the owners can come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement the prospects of a regular season grow ever more dim. Bryant knows this and his keeping his options open.
“I could [play abroad],” Bryant told the Associated Press Saturday. “I’m playing abroad right now.”
This summer Bryant has traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. He has held youth clinics in the Philippines, China, and is currently holding one in Singapore. When he says he is “playing abroad” he does not mean professionally in an organized league. At least not yet.
Bryant’s main suitor during the lockout has been the Turkish team Besiktas, where Deron Williams and Zaza Pachulia now play. Besiktas has gone as far as to have meetings with representatives of Bryant but nothing further ever transpired. There has also been interest shown by Chinese teams. However, China is currently barring all players currently under contract in the NBA from playing in the Chinese league. Bryant, even though the owners have locked out the players, is still under contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite the hurdles that the Chinese have imposed, playing in China would seem like the most likely next step for Bryant if he were to play overseas. He is the most popular NBA player in China and considers it a second home. He would receive superstar treatment and then some everywhere he went and arenas that he played in would be filled to capacity.
He would not be the first NBA player to play in China, if he chose to do so. Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith have reached agreements with Chinese teams and Patrick Beverley, the one-time future starting point guard for the Miami Heat, played in China last season after he was let go by Miami in order to create room for Jerry Stackhouse on the roster. Former NBAers such as Stephon Marbury and Bonzi Wells have also found success in China, with Marbury still playing there for the Foshan Dralions.
Bryant is, however, open to the idea of joining his Lakers’ teammates for informal workouts that the players must organize themselves. No such workouts have been scheduled yet.
The more protracted the lockout becomes, the more it could hurt the Lakers. Los Angeles brought in Mike Brown as their new head coach this summer to replace Phil Jackson, who retired. Brown is known as a defensive minded coach and will likely replace the triangle with a system of his own. He said as much in an interview with Kevin Ding of the OC Register:
“In Cleveland, I had a guy who liked to come off the top of the floor, liked to play in space and play pick-and-roll and make plays for others. Here, I’ve got two guys similar to what we had in San Antonio; you’re able to throw them the ball on the block.”
So, if the future of the Lakers is post-oriented offensive schemes involving Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum then where does that leave Bryant, the face of the franchise since being drafted by the Lakers straight out of high school in 1996? In China perhaps.
There are plenty of uncertainties surrounding the future of the NBA and its players and Bryant is just one of them. What is known, though, is that Bryant wants to compete against the best the world has to offer. As of right now the only place he can do that is in the NBA. Expect him to only sign overseas as a last resort if he sees no labor resolution in sight. Bryant became the player he is in the NBA and anything else, outside of playing on the U.S. national team in the Olympics, would be a step down.