Many years back, Reuben Patterson, proclaimed himself the Kobe Stopper, as he thought he was the only player in the league that could slow the Superstar down. Turns out, he was dead wrong, and to date there is only one man who can slow Kobe down, Father Time.

But not even Old Man Time can stop Kobe from setting a record this season when he becomes the first player ever in NBA history to play for 20 years on just one team. But now the question becomes, will his 20th season be his last?

The answer to that question is, it depends on who you ask. His former boss, Phil Jackson, thinks it will be his last season as a Laker, but not in the NBA. His former team-mate and rival Shaquille O’Neal thinks that Kobe knows this is his only go around and he will quit when he is ready to do so.

His current boss, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak thinks that this will be it for Kobe, saying that Kobe had “indicated to me that this is it. I think first and foremost, he’s on the last year of a deal. There have been no discussions about anything going forward. I don’t think there will be. A year from now, if there’s something different to discuss, then it will be discussed then.”

Of course what anybody says doesn’t mean squat, the only guy that matters is Kobe, and what he thinks. Right now, he doesn’t know, all he knows is he is looking forward to 2015-16 season, and as far as Jackson assertion that he will be wearing another uniform next season, “I’m a Laker, man. How many times do I have to say that? Dude, I bleed purple and gold.”

If the Lakers struggle, as they have done the past two seasons, I believe we will see Kobe hang ‘em up, but I don’t think that’s how this season plays out. No, I may be in the minority here, but I firmly believe this Laker team is playoff bound.

First of all, in their starting five they have three guys who are more than capable of being ball handlers (Kobe, D’Angelo Russell & Jordan Clarkson), which means it won’t always be on Kobe to do it. Add that to the fact that Julius Randle is healthy and ready to go and they added possibly the best rim protector in the league in Roy Hibbert, and the starting five is the best it has looked in years.

Then when you realize that reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, Swaggy P (Nick Young), Brandon Bass and Larry Nance Jr are all coming off the bench, and all of a sudden this Laker team is complete.

Yes, the Western Conference is loaded with talented teams, but as of this writing the only two teams out west I can say unequivocally is better than the Lakers are the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

Now before all you Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Clippers fans get all over my jock for that statement answer me one question. In the last two seasons in which the Lakers were down, how many Titles or even Finals appearances did all of you make combined?

Oh that’s right, ZERO!

Considering that none of you got considerably better in the off-season, shut the you-know-what up.

I am not saying the Lakers are going to be back in the NBA Finals, but what I am saying is that they will not only be a playoff team, but they will have home court advantage in at least one round. This team is light years ahead of the past two year’s teams and will prove it on the floor.

A team with that kind of potential is one that will have a 20 year vet like Kobe thinking about a return, especially if he comes close to, but does not get, his Jordan tying 6th ring this season. I don’t care what anybody says, including Kobe, that is the one thing he wants more than anything else, to at least tie MJ in the Title department.

Then comes the news that over the last few days a certain free agent to be is now strongly considering signing with the Lakers next off-season, if he is not resigned by his current team. Before that news broke, it was common thought that Kevin Durant was going to either stay in OKC or go play in Dallas (near where he played his college ball at Texas), South Beach or his home of Washington DC.

But now the idea of playing for Purple and Gold appears to be at the top of Durant’s list, and considering the Lakers did not lose any of their salary cap space this off-season, and that thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Cap will have the largest single season jump of about $20 million next year when the new $24 billion television deal kicks in, Durant can make whatever he wants.

So imagine a Laker team with Kobe, Russell and Randle with a full year under their belts, a motivated Hibbert and Kevin Durant? That would be on par with the Laker teams that won titles in 2009 and 2010.

THAT’S how Kobe would want to retire, after a record 21 seasons all with the Lakers, 6 titles (like MJ), and knowing the franchise is now in the great hands of the trio of Durant, Russell & Randle.

However the Mamba decides he will go out, he does not need a farewell tour. That way Kobe can wait until February, March, or even June to decide if #24 is done. It will be just a matter of time after that, that his number will be hanging in the rafters of Staples Center like all the other Laker greats.

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