Kobe Bryant will vacillate often, surely, but the question will always be in the background: Is this his final season or will he return to the Lakers for one more year?
As of Saturday, this is it.
“If you ask me today, I’d say this would be my last year,” Bryant said. “But you never know. You keep it open. Whatever happens, happens.”
Bryant has been shooting poorly — 32.1% overall, 21.1% from three-point range — and the Lakers have pretty much matched it with a 1-4 start.
It seems obvious he won’t come back if he keeps playing so far below his standards, though he seemed relaxed and jovial after Saturday’s practice.
There’s also the physical wear and tear to consider. Both Bryant’s knees had ice bags wrapped around them after Saturday’s surprisingly long practice. He also had an ice wrap on his right shoulder, the one that ended last season for him when the rotator cuff gave out.
“They always come to New York,” he said, defusing the potential clue and adding some levity. “They never come to see me when I’m in Oklahoma.”
Wouldn’t they want to see him more often around the house?
“Of course they want me around all the time. And I want to be around them all the time,” he said, adding it wouldn’t be the sole determining factor on his possible retirement.
Bryant has maintained he won’t decide until after this season. He said Friday he would never play for another team, but a return to the Lakers would mean a substantial pay cut from the $25 million he banked this season.
Bryant, 37, will conceivably play his last game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, the first of several stops through hallowed grounds for him.
Next month is bookended by Philadelphia on Dec. 1 and Boston on Dec. 30. February brings a potential last NBA stop in San Antonio, where so many playoff battles were fought, and Chicago, where he would have been gladly traded in 2007.
Only Bryant can determine what will happen but the hints keep being dropped. He also excluded one future profession, whenever he retires. Bryant said he had “zero interest” in coaching.
“I don’t feel like dealing with divas,” he added. “They’re a pain in the ass.”
Last MSG trip?
Bryant won’t get misty-eyed if this is his final game in New York, but it’s hard not to remember the 61-point flurry he had at Madison Square Garden in 2009.
Bryant made 19 of 31 shots, all 20 of his free-throw attempts and also had three assists in setting the Garden record for points in a game. (Carmelo Anthony scored 62 several years later.)
Bryant received a standing ovation from almost every fan when he took a seat amid a sea of “M-V-P” chants with 1:48 to play in the Lakers’ 126-117 victory.
Legendary Knicks fan Spike Lee was even astounded by Bryant’s game, crouching over in amazement after a spinning, twisting 12-footer gave Bryant 59 points. The night marked the fourth-most points he ever scored in a game.
“This place is special because the fans will boo you the whole game but they appreciate the game,” Bryant said afterward. “Tonight it felt great to get that reaction from these fans because it’s just them saying, ‘We love what you do.’ ”
LAKERS VS. NEW YORK KNICKS
When: 12:30 PST.
Where: Madison Square Garden.
On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 1-4, Knicks 2-4.
Record vs. Knicks (2014-15): 0-2.
Carmelo Anthony has started slowly since having knee surgery several months ago, averaging 21 points on 36.6% accuracy. The Knicks aren’t getting much from their starting backcourt of Jose Calderon and former Lakers shooting guard Sasha Vujacic, who have combined for 9.5 points and 5.3 assists a game. The Lakers have lost their last four games at Madison Square Garden.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan
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