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Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeanie Buss wants Kobe Bryant to know one thing: He should be a Laker for life.
"I want Kobe to take the time that he needs to get healthy," Buss said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPNLA 710. "I don't want to see him come back any sooner than when he's ready, and I know he'll know when that is. There's no reason for him to do anything that compromises his health."
Later, when asked by ESPNLosAngeles.com to expand on that comment, Buss said, "Kobe is part of the Laker family and he always will be. There's not many players who play 18-19 years with the same franchise, and it's important to us that he has a chance to play his entire career with the Lakers."
Bryant is recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury. He's also in the final year of a contract that will pay him $30.5 million this coming season, the most in the NBA.
He's not thinking retirement just yet, mentioning several times this summer that he wants to play at least two or three more seasons. Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com last month that he fully intends to retire as a Laker someday and doesn't believe there will be any problem securing an extension for as long as he can play at an elite level. Bryant also said he didn't intend to approach the Lakers about an extension until "the dust settled" on their other business this summer.
According to ESPN.com salary cap expert Larry Coon, Bryant, who turns 35 this month, will be subject to the "over-36 rule" of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement in his next contract, meaning he can only sign a two-year extension this offseason (for a total of three more seasons). If he waits to become a free agent next summer, he could sign a new three-year contract through the 2017 season.
Signing the extension this summer would give Bryant peace of mind in knowing he has guaranteed money after this season as he attempts to come back from his Achilles injury. It also would give the Lakers clarity about their future, after being spurned by free agent center Dwight Howard, and removes Bryant's massive $32 million cap hold from the 2014-15 books.