"I will do what they ask of me, but it's very, very hard for me to miss one game," Bryant said Thursday after the Lakers' 109-102 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center. "I'm not going to be here much longer, so the games that I play, I want to make sure that I'm playing and enjoying it and appreciating it."
Bryant, who scored 19 points and recorded a career-high 17 assists against the Cavaliers, has one season left on his contract, meaning the 2015-16 season would mark his 20th and final season in the NBA.
Lakers coach Byron Scott has been adamant that neither he nor the team's front office has had any discussions at this point about shutting down Bryant, but Scott did say this week that "I'm pretty sure if we're [not in] playoff contention in March or something like that, then we might discuss that."
Bryant has missed several games recently to rest after playing a heavy-minutes load earlier this season, prompting questions about the team's long-term plans for him.
"Seriously, I understand," Bryant said. "I understand. It's my responsibility to be ready every single night and when I step out there on the floor to give it my all. If they want to shut me down, if they decide to sit me out, I will do what's asked of me. It's that simple."
When asked about management's position in terms of him missing games, Bryant said, "Save these steps as much as possible. If my knees are a little sore, if my Achilles is tight ..."
But save those steps for what?
"To try and get another year out of me," Bryant said, laughing. "Probably. You know me, man. If I say that's it, that's it."
Bryant said if his final NBA season involved him sitting out games and playing with a minutes limit, he would do it.
"I'll do whatever's necessary," Bryant said. "I'll really just be present, just be in the moment."
Bryant stuck to his 32-minute limit against the Cavaliers, but with about 8 minutes left, the fans were calling for him to re-enter the game.
At that point, he had played 26 minutes, meaning he had to let a couple more minutes melt off the clock before he could check in, lest he run afoul of Scott's plan.
"Yeah, I heard the fans [chanting], 'We want Kobe,'" Scott said. "I was going to say I want him too. But I'm not going to do it."
Scott added, "That's tough, because I know how much he means to us. But I also know that in the long run, it's going to be the best thing for us."
Before the game, Scott touched on that subject as well.
"He understands that he's a hell of a basketball player, but he's not what he used to be," Scott said of Bryant. "He can't play 40 minutes a night. He can't play four out of five nights. But he also wants to play and go out on a high note. He doesn't want to limp out. That's one of the main reasons why we're doing what we're doing right now."
Bryant said it wasn't easy listening to the fans chant his name, calling for him to check back in.
"It's hard," he said. "But all the years of it looking I was tuning Phil [Jackson] out, I actually did listen to some of the Zen stuff that he would throw out there -- being present, being mindful, being able to detach yourself from situations and just 'be' is something that's really helped me throughout this entire season. I joke about that, but I'm actually very serious. It's the ability to be calm and to see the big picture and to just be present."
Scott admitted earlier this week that he was playing Bryant too many minutes earlier this season.
"It doesn't matter," Bryant said. "Trial and error. We try one thing out, didn't work, made adjustments and now we're doing something else. It's not that big a deal."
Bryant is notoriously stubborn, so it's expected that he'll push back at some point and just decide that he's going to play as many minutes in any game that he wants, as that's seemingly what he would've done five years ago.
"Well, the Kobe from five years ago could physically pick up this whole team by myself," Bryant said. "I've always been a realist, though. Always. I'm not afraid to self-assess and be honest about that and be brutally honest with myself.
"I can look myself in the mirror and say, physically, I can't do that, so I'm not going to do that. I'll do something else. I'll figure out how to do something else. You can't achieve that level of anything if you're not brutally honest with yourself, man. You've got to be. I am that. That's why you're not seeing that."
But he emphasized that he still has to play at an elite level, even if how he defines that has changed.
"It's just different. It's more putting the pieces in the right place," he said. "It's more quarterbacking. It's more positioning. It's more strategic. It's less foot on the throttle.
"I'll be at a high level. I can get 15 [points], 10 assists, eight rebounds in 30 minutes in my sleep."
Would he tolerate anything other than playing at the level to which he has become accustomed?
"For myself, no," Bryant said. "Absolutely not. You kidding? If I can't do that, then I'll call it quits. I'm not going to have you [reporters] see me out there looking like s---. You crazy? You [reporters] kill me enough as it is."