The Lakers are working toward an extension for Kobe Bryant, and co-owner and executive vice president Jim Buss tells Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com that there’s no way the star two-guard will become a free agent this summer, when his current contract is set to expire. Bryant’s torn Achilles tendon has slowed the talks between GM Mitch Kupchak and agent Rob Pelinka, but Buss swears a deal will get done before July 1st.
“I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent,” Buss said. “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.”
A report in September indicated negotiations had not yet begun, so it appears the two sides have only recently begun to talk. Bryant said over the summer that he wasn’t keen on the idea of taking a significant paycut, and signing an extension, which would run no more than three years beyond his current deal’s expiration, would represent a sacrifice. Bryant could sign a record five-year deal with the Lakers for close to $184MM if he waited until he became a free agent in July, though such a contract would be unlikely given its size and the 35-year-old Bryant’s age.
Bryant could make slightly more per season if he signed a maximum-salary extension, but even that may be far-fetched, since that would entail a salary of more than $32.7MM next season. The talks may ultimately center around just how much less than the max Bryant is willing to take to allow the team to seek free agents with its ample projected cap space for this summer.
The timing of this pronouncement from Buss seems odd, since he told T.J. Simers of the Orange County Register on Thursday that he and Bryant had an understanding that Bryant would hit free agency.