- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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"The Last Chapter" sounds a lot like "The Last Stand," the quote Phil Jackson gave when he decided to return for his final season with the Lakers in 2010-11 and seemed to imply Bryant was thinking of retiring after next season.
Far from it, a source told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Friday.
Bryant wants to be "back next season with a vengeance," the source said. And he wants "two more cracks at it to win seven NBA titles at least."
In other words, it's highly unlikely next season will be his last. Bryant and Derek Fisher lead all active players with five NBA titles, although the Spurs' Tim Duncan could tie them if San Antonio beats the Miami Heat in this year's Finals.
Bryant has always publicly maintained that he will play only while he's able to perform at an elite level. Next season is his final one under contract with the Lakers. A source with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the team was planning to open extension talks with Bryant as soon as it was allowed to under NBA rules, which ironically came right after he ruptured his Achilles in a game against Golden State on April 12.
Both sides would love to see Bryant retire as a Laker, sources said. But the Achilles injury complicated the issue, especially the timing of talks about an extension.
It would be difficult for the Lakers to bring Bryant back at his current salary of $30 million a year with the salary-cap restrictions in the new collective bargaining agreement. But the team is determined to treat Bryant well and with the respect befitting his contributions to the franchise during his career, the source said.
Bryant is still in the early stages of recovery from his injury, but he is determined to return by the start of next season and be just as good as he was this season, when he averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds a game, all higher than his career averages, at the age of 34.
Earlier this month, he told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin that he hopes to play in the Lakers' season opener.
"That's the challenge," Bryant told McMenamin. "With the tendon, there's really only so much you can do. There's a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don't overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.
"So you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal, and then when that moment comes when they say, 'OK, we can take off the regulator, so to speak, and now it's on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,' that's going to be a good day."
That day hasn't come yet, but it's getting close. The closer it gets, the more determined Bryant seems to be growing.
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss