Apparently Kobe Bryant won't hit the free-agent market, after all.
T.J. Simers of the Orange County Register recently reported that Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss was planning on letting Bryant hit free agency before later re-signing him in the name of financial flexibility.
But Buss put an end to that rumor, telling ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that Bryant won't become a free agent at all:
"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."
Buss seems pretty adamant, but when it comes down to it, it really doesn't matter whether or not Bryant hits free agency for some period of time. The end game is simple: Kobe returning to the Lakers for the 2014-15 season.
Bryant has spent all 17 of his legendary seasons with the Lakers, and the chances of him ending his career—or even taking a detour—with any other team are somewhere in the range between slim and none.
The thing to pay attention to in all of this is whether or not Bryant, who is set to make just over $30 million this season, takes a significant pay cut.
Los Angeles currently has just three players—Steve Nash, Nick Young and Robert Sacre—on the books for the next season, and if Bryant allows them, the Lakers will have lots of room to make a splash in free agency and add some talented pieces.
How Bryant returns from his Achilles injury will also play a role in all of this. He's focused solely on working his way back right now, so contract talk has unsurprisingly been put on the backburner.