Superstar Kobe Bryant is set to become a free agent after the upcoming season, but, after reports saying otherwise, Jim Buss won't allow Bryant to hit the market at all.
UPDATE: Friday, Oct. 25, at 11:30 p.m. ET
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne has the latest:
"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."
---End of update---
But it's not exactly what you think. As the Orange County Register's T.J. Simers explains, it would only be a technicality move so the Lakers have more financial flexibility:
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.
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.”
This isn't exactly surprising. Veterans often take pay cuts so their teams can spend money on other important pieces, and with Bryant set to hit free agency, this is essentially just another way for him and the Lakers to do that while better helping the team improve.
The 35-year-old has established himself as one of the greatest players of all time, and after averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals in 38.6 minutes per contest last season, he proved to the world that he still has plenty left in the tank.
That being said, he currently has the biggest hurdle of his career in front of him, as he attempts to rehab from a torn Achilles he suffered at the end of last season.
How Mamba returns from that injury will have a major factor in how he is approached this offseason, but it would still be a major shock if he doesn't finish his career with the team he has spent his first 17 NBA years with.
Bryant is set to make just over $30 million this season.
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