Update: Jim Buss told ESPN that there’s no way the Lakers will let Kobe become a free agent, and that the team is working on a contract.
"I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent," the Lakers’ executive VP 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."
Tucked into the bottom of this T.J. Simers column is quite the nugget: The Lakers are supposedly going to let Kobe Bryant become a free agent at the end of this season.
That may or may not mean much by the time this season ends. Bryant, 35, is attempting to return from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the odds are against him.
But there is possibility that Bryant will not finish his career in purple and gold, and that 20 years from now you’ll find a Kobe Bryant jersey in some other color at a thrift store and go, "Oh yeah . . ."
"He becomes a free agent at the end of the season, and Jim Buss says because of the pay structure of the NBA, the Lakers will allow Kobe to become a free agent," Simers writes. "He says he has talked to Kobe and believes they have an understanding, Bryant waiting as a free agent while the team spends to upgrade and then using what is left over to pay Kobe. ‘We’ve probably talked,’ says Kobe while being somewhat vague, ‘but I’m putting off any thought of that.’ "
Bryant insists, however, you’ll never see him on the floor as a shell of himself.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of actors who won’t take a role if they don’t think they can execute it.”
Bryant suffered the injury during an April 12 game against Golden State. He has played all of his 17 seasons with the Lakers, averaging 25 or more points in 12 of those seasons.
Even though he averaged 27.3 points last season, ESPN decided to rank him the 25th best player in the NBA behind names like Joakim Noah and John Wall. Well, naturally, that didn’t smooth over too well with the Mamba.