Better for Kobe Bryant’s Legacy: Retiring a Laker or Winning Another Ring?

The end of the NBA preseason is rarely fruitful terrain for bandying bold predictions, but here’s one that most should feel safe in making: The Los Angeles Lakers won’t win the NBA championship.

Not this year, not next year and—barring some fantastic free-agent coup—not the year after that either.

That could leave Kobe Bryant, the team’s 36-year-old cornerstone, in quite the pickle once his contract extension expires at the end of the 2015-16 season. Retirement is always an option, of course.

But it’s in considering a pair of other paths that Bryant is sure to have dueling devils and angels on his shoulders: staying in L.A. in hopes that the front office can cobble together another contender, or bolting for whoever gives him the best chance at chip No. 6.

The bigger question, however, is: Which is better for Bryant’s legacy?

Five titles, 16-All Star nods, three MVPs (two for the Finals, one for the regular slate), 11 All-NBA First-Team selections, the second-most points ever scored in an NBA game (81): If this isn’t the stuff of a Springfield shrine, they might as well raze the Hall altogether.

That Bryant will at least go down as the second-best shooting guard to ever lace up Chucks barely goes without thinking, let alone saying. But like Michael Jordan before him, Bryant’s towering presence hasn’t been without its fissures in the facade.

On Monday, ESPN The Magazine published an explosive piece by Henry Abbott detailing what the author saw as Bryant’s role in turning the Lakers from perennial powerhouse into lottery losers seemingly overnight.

At issue is how Bryant’s hypercompetitive, hypercritical personality may or may not have been responsible for deterring—or in the case of Dwight Howard, outright driving away—potential superstar sidekicks. Couple that with Kobe’s...

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