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Kobe Bryant's career may have its finish line set

Kobe Bryant may be entering the final season of his career, which means his final game may already be marked.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The finish line for Kobe Bryant's career may be in place. The Los Angeles Lakers' 2015-2016 season ends on Apr. 13, 2016, against the Utah Jazz, which could serve as the final 48 minutes of Bryant's career. While anticipation for the start of the season may be bubbling thanks to the young talent the team has gathered, the end of the year will ultimately be crushed by the gravity of this singular fact: Bryant's final act could already be marked on the calendar.

Forget counting back-to-backs, longest road trips and seeking out that schedule loss in Denver. What may be the final season of Kobe's career has a map we can trace. His first game comes against an old rival in Kevin Garnett, and one of the NBA's most intriguing wing prospects, Andrew Wiggins. His only -- and possibly final -- trip to Madison Square Garden is Nov. 8, making for an early-season dose of nostalgia with Phil Jackson at the Mecca of basketball. Bryant's last games in Philadelphia (Dec. 1) and Boston (Dec. 30) are all but a perfect way to bookend December. Kobe's first tango with Dwight Howard comes between that in Houston on Dec. 12, and considering how testy things got last time around, get ready for the hype heading into a junk-food game.

It's no surprise the Lakers will be on national television 19 times, with nine additional NBA TV appearances, bringing the total to 28. D'Angelo Russell and the youth developing together will keep the pulse of the season steady, while an opportunity to cherish what little time may be left with Kobe Bryant the basketball player is what will spike the hearts of Lakers fans. Each baseline turnaround could be his last, making each swish of the net all the sweeter.

Maybe it's wrong to already start thinking about Kobe's book as having a final page earmarked to end his legacy. It's hard not to, though, considering the expiration date on his contract is the only thing concrete in his future. He'll ultimately make a decision when he's ready, but for now, it's more than fair to start bracing for impact. This ship might be preparing to sail through the murky 82-game journey one last time.

And there will be plenty of full-circle talk the whole way through it. The Lakers are preparing to embrace a movement led by a new hyper-talented guard who must find his way to becoming the kind of floor general Los Angeles has come to expect. Kobe will be moving toward ending his career as one of the few athletes in sports history to spend and enjoy such an illustrious career with a single franchise. Coincidentally, his first NBA minutes during his rookie season came against the Minnesota Timberwolves, against whom the Lakers will open the '15-16 season, and ended in the playoffs against the Jazz, against whom the Lakers will end the regular season.

All this talk of retirement could just as easily be for naught, too. Kobe could go through the season, stay relatively healthy, and feel up to the challenge of stretching his career. It's not something he's clearly ruled out yet, and if the Lakers' youth proves to be competitive, maybe a restructured future with Bryant could be beneficial to both sides. The Lakers will be one step closer to an NBA landscape that will unlock their spending power, leaving them in position to add two maximum-level players next summer. If the Lakers' pitches make it over the plate this summer, the aroma of playoff hopes baking in the oven might just be enough to keep Kobe around a little longer. We know the man loves his cookies.

The season will have ups, downs and unexpected turns along the way, but it all leads to what could be a final ride with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. A living legend may run his final steps through a purple and gold finish line on April 13th.

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