"I don't think we're done winning championships with him yet," Lakers executive vice president, Jim Buss, told ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne.
Normally, I'd remind everyone that this could be some good ol' fashion front-office posturing. What else is Buss supposed to say? "Kobe? Yeah, he's important. And we'll probably re-sign him, knowing full well he'll never win another title."
But Buss and the Lakers aren't just talking. They're walking the walk—by talking to Kobe.
"I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent," he told Shelburne.
Contract talks between Kobe and the Lakers are ongoing, according to Shelburne. If they are prepared to invest more years and money in an injured 35-year-old, then Buss actually buys into what he's slinging. That, and the Lakers are also putting themselves in position to get an early jump on next summer's festivities.
Paying Kobe now will give Los Angeles a better idea of how much available funds it will have to play with in free agency. Like I've outlined previously, depending on what Kobe commands in his next contract, the Lakers could afford two, one or none of the top free agents in 2014.
Waiting until July, when Kobe will officially become a free agent, presents too many risks. Though Kobe isn't a flight risk, a last-minute deal doesn't give the Lakers much time to plan.
This way, the Lakers know what they're dealing with. If Kobe doesn't take a pay cut, they can set their future sights accordingly. If he accepts less, the Lakers can set a definitive of list of stars to pursue.
Put in that context, attempting to hasten the inevitable by locking Kobe down now is a no-brainer.
"That's not going to happen," Buss said of the Black Mamba entering free agency, via Shelburne. "Kobe is a top priority for us. He's a Laker legend and always will be."