Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss stated Friday that the organization has begun contract extension talks with Kobe Bryant and strongly believes the 18-year veteran will agree to a new deal before next offseason, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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.”
This is contrary to an earlier report made on Thursday by the Orange County Register that stated Buss and Bryant had a mutual agreement that the organization would permit the 15-time All-Star to become a free agent to allow the Lakers to pursue other free agents first before negotiating a deal with him.
Also in Kupchak’s press conference prior to the start of the preseason, the Lakers general manager deflected questions about contract extension talks between Lakers’ management and Bryant.
So with the news about the two sides beginning new contract discussions comes as no surprise as Bryant has stated on many occasions over this past offseason that he intends to retire as a Laker. The only impediment to the negotiations as expected is the uncertainty if Bryant will be able to continue to play at a high level after having surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon.
Bryant has confirmed to the Orange County Register that the two sides have initiated talks of a contract extension, stating, “We’ve probably talked. But I’m putting off any thought of that.”
At this moment, he is progressing along in his rehab and still has not set a timetable for his return to the court. He had recently on the team’s trip to China this preseason heighten the workload in his rehab, but has since scaled back and has continued to reiterate to the media that he must remain patient and not rush back too soon before he feels that he is ready.
Bryant is in the final year of his three-year contract extension that he signed with the Lakers in April of 2010 that will pay him $30.5 million this upcoming season.
There has not been any speculation that Bryant would leave the Lakers if he were to indeed become a free agent, but rather if he would be willing to take a pay cut in order to allow the team to have enough salary cap space to pursue two marquee free agents next offseason.
With contract extension talks now underway, it appears the Lakers will find out the answer to that question before LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony make any decisions regarding their possible free agency next summer.
Photo by Christopher Johnson / Wikimedia Commons