T.J. Simers

Always a superstar, Lakers' Kobe Bryant relies on his superpowers

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PHILADELPHIA

This is what happens when the Lakers win, a good time had by all and to be enjoyed because it doesn't happen all that often.

Kobe is asked about the 17 years he's been coming back home to play in Philadelphia and how many more times will he get to play here.

"Next year could be my last time," he says.

So I want to know whether he is taking this occasion to announce his retirement after next season.

"Next year could be my last time," he repeats, and when I remind him he's playing so well and he might want to keep playing, he shakes his head.

"No, it's a lot of work," he says. "I have to do a lot of, lot of, lot of work. Like every middle-aged man that feels his body is just slowing down, it keeps pushing me, but it's so much work."

Someone else wonders whether the return of Steve Nash will allow Kobe to cut back; raise your hand if you think Kobe Bryant will ever cut back.

He says Nash's return will make the Lakers better, but he's not about to start slowing down.

"I'm a scorer, man, you don't get 30,000 points without knowing how to put yourself in positions to shoot it," he says. "The ball finds scorers, and I like shooting.

"Getting up 30 shots ain't easy," he says. "A lot of people don't know how to do it. Michael took 49 shots in the Finals and lost. Can you picture me doing that?"

"Absolutely," I say and he notices the grin.

"I don't care how it gets to me," Kobe says, and now he's grinning. "I like putting it up. I'm just being honest."

I remind him he's a ball hog, and he doesn't curse, huff and puff or walk away. He really has changed.

"You have never apologized for being a ball hog," I say by way of teasing him.

"It's like superheroes," he says. "Superman could fly, Spiderman has webs, Steve can pass and I shoot."

He says "ball hog" is a fair description, well, sort of. "Whatever, I guess," he says. "I don't want to say ball hog but I do put up the shots. I'd much rather shoot than pass."

But it's difficult to hog the ball when a team has more than one superstar.

"Look at my career," he says. "When you have another dominant teammate, you have the capability of winning more and individually you sacrifice more.

"If I was playing in this [Mike] D'Antoni system when I was 21 or 23, forget it. The floor is spread and you just get to the rim."

So I ask, "Would you have 40,000 points by now?"

"If I wasn't playing with Shaq, probably," he says. "I would have scored a lot more for sure."

But that's like a lifetime ago. And so knowing how much he wants to win championships and (tongue-in-cheek) I just heard him say he's going to retire after next year, is he panic-stricken, nervous or questioning his chances now of winning another ring?

"A little bit of everything," he says, while saying he relishes the challenge now that things appear so bleak.

That's the Kobe that will never change.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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