Kobe Bryant is in the final year of his current deal with the Lakers, and he would become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014 if nothing is done to retain his services before then.
Of course, no one believes that Bryant will finish his career in anything other than a Lakers jersey.
Bryant has said many times that he considers himself a Laker for life, and the team is in the early stages of taking the steps necessary to ensure his contract doesn’t become the focal point of some kind of drama in what will be such a critical offseason for the future of the franchise.
Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss said Friday that the team has started talks with Bryant’s representative on a contract extension for the five-time NBA champion and fully expects a new deal to be completed before the star guard can become a free agent on July 1, 2014.
“I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent,” Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Friday night. “That’s not going to happen. Kobe is a top priority for us. He’s a Laker legend and always will be. I don’t think we’re done winning championships with him yet.
“[Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak and [Bryant’s agent] Rob Pelinka have been talking, but with him being hurt, it has slowed the process some. I don’t know when it’ll get done, but I have faith in Rob and Mitch to work things out.”
As far as we know, there’s been zero credible speculation that Bryant would ever become a free agent in the true sense of those words. Even if his contract was allowed by the Lakers to expire, no one believes for a moment that Bryant would somehow become available on the open market to be hired as a mercenary in his final couple of years in the league.
But it is important for the Lakers to get this out of the way as soon as possible.
The only players under contract in Los Angeles for next season are Steve Nash and Robert Sacre, with Nick Young potentially being one more if he were to exercise his player option next summer. With L.A. looking to reload with free agent talent, the team will need to know ahead of time just how much money they’ll have to play with under the salary cap, and Bryant’s number will weigh heavily in those calculations.
There never was any question that Bryant would re-up with the Lakers following this season; the only issue was at what price. That very important dollar figure still looms large over the Lakers and what they’ll be able to do with the rest of the roster next summer, but it appears as though they’ll have the answer well before any additional free agent decisions need to be made.