Kobe Bryant is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. After collecting his largest paycheck ever for what will most likely be his least productive campaign in a long time, the two-time NBA Finals MVP will become a free agent on July 1.
This past week, T.J. Simers of the Orange County Register wrote a story in which he said that L.A. would likely allow Bryant to become a free agent, just so that they can construct a strong roster. Then they would re-sign him, obviously to a much smaller amount that the league-high $30.5 million he’s slated to pull in this year.
A few days later, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN penned her own report – only she spoke to the Lakers’ executive VP of basketball operations before doing so. According to Jim Buss, the team has already begun negotiations with Bryant over his new, much smaller final NBA contract, and they expect it to be completed before the former NBA MVP even gets close to free agency.
"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.
Bryant is currently recovering from the left Achilles surgery that he had at the end of last season. While the team hasn’t reported any setbacks, neither he nor the Lakers have announced when exactly he is scheduled to return.
Just a few months ago there was talk of him returning for opening night, however, with L.A.’s only real basketball team scheduled to take on the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, obviously that’s not going to happen.
The Lakers are going to have the cap space to pursue at least one max-level player next summer, maybe two, and Bryant taking less money is almost as important from a symbolic standpoint as it is from a financial one. It’s no secret that a lot of big name stars and mid-tier roleplayers have avoided L.A. in the past because of Bryant, and him stepping aside for the sake of the team in contract negotiations would be a clear sign to incoming free agents that he’s willing to hand over the reins to them in a way he wasn’t with Dwight Howard.