- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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2013-14 salary: $30,453,805 | Age: 35 | Season stats: 13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG
Season recap: The 2013-14 season represented the rock bottom of Bryant's otherwise brilliant career. After missing the first 19 games of the season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg, the 18-year veteran managed to return for only six games before having his season shut down because of another major injury to his left leg -- this one a fractured knee. By the end of the season, Bryant was so miserable he looked liked a prisoner when he posed for the team photo, and he was mostly MIA on the bench as the Lakers stumbled down the stretch. All was not lost for Bryant, however, as he managed to ink a two-year extension worth $48.5 million in late November, before he made his truncated comeback.
Season highlight: Bryant was starting to look like his old self against the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 17. He had 21 points on 9-for-18 shooting, five rebounds, four assists and a 28-foot 3-pointer with 2:38 to go, which helped L.A. hang on for a four-point road victory.
Season lowlight: Unfortunately, Bryant's highlight came in the same game as his lowlight. He suffered his knee injury in the game against Memphis and did not play again all season, despite an initial six-week timetable for recovery.
Final grade: F
Notes: In mid-March, when it was finally, officially determined Bryant would not play again until next season, the star guard made a bold declaration about his future. "I don't want to say I'll be back at the top of my game, because everybody is going to think I'm crazy and an old player not letting go," he said. "But that's what it's going to be." As much as things have changed over the years, Bryant still has the same confidence.
Quotable: "It's the same old tune. It's just being sung a little more loudly now. Those types of things help me lock in more than ever." -- Bryant on Christmas Day, when asked about pundits doubting his ability to return to peak form.
What's next? Bryant has been very confident about the Lakers' chances to quickly return to contender status before he retires. Maybe he knows something the rest of us don't. To begin with, L.A. needs not only a coach who meshes with Bryant's personality but also one whose system best utilizes the aging Bryant. Clearly, Mike D'Antoni was not that guy. The Lakers also have plenty of roster decisions to make, as only two players other than Bryant (Steve Nash and Robert Sacre) are under contract for next season. Finally, it will be interesting to see how Bryant changes his game -- whether he'll play fewer minutes, sit out the second night of back-to-backs, etc. -- to try to stay healthy in the long run. How will he handle it if L.A. is out of the hunt by the All-Star break again next season? Will he be content padding his career numbers with no postseason in sight?
21hMicah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information
1dBaxter Holmes and Larry Coon