- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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"I think about a lot of things to improve this team, to figure out how to manage the finances of it," said Lakers executive vice president of player personnel, Jim Buss, as a guest on the "Mason & Ireland Show" on 710 ESPN on Friday. "One thing I haven't thought of is Kobe being somewhere else. I don't know why that question has ever come up and I'd like to squish that one."
Bryant, 33, has played all 16 seasons of his career with the Lakers. He is under contract for the next two seasons and is set to make $58.3 million.
Buss, the son of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, hinted that Bryant will not be retiring when his contract is through. When a caller suggested Bryant only had a short window remaining to try to capture his sixth NBA championship, Buss suggested Bryant could be around for a while longer.
"I might disagree with you that Kobe only has three or four years left, but we'll see," Buss said. "As you see, we make trades and our whole focus isn't to win a sixth (championship). I'm not sure I would stop there for Kobe; I would go to seven or eight if we can. ... I think Kobe is going to be a Laker for life and I'm pretty sure he's not going to hang them up after two years."
While Bryant's security within the franchise couldn't be stronger, Buss wanted to dispel the widespread belief that his personal attachment to center Andrew Bynum would prevent the Lakers from ever trading their 24-year-old All-Star.
"It's just not true," said Buss, who had influence in the Lakers selecting Bynum with the No. 10 pick in the 2005 NBA draft. "It's not like I'm going out shopping Andrew Bynum, just nothing has ever come our way and I don't anticipate anything coming our way where I would want to trade Andrew Bynum. ... There just hasn't been anything for Andrew Bynum. Thank goodness we didn't. The same people that attach me to Andrew Bynum would have traded him six times already, probably for players we wouldn't even have (at this point). It's OK to attach my name to Andrew Bynum because I think he's a perennial All-Star, that's OK with me, but to say that I wouldn't trade him? That's just unfounded."
Bynum is averaging career highs in points (17.8), rebounds (12.6) and minutes (35.9) per game this season and is shooting a league-leading 58.1 percent from the field.
The Lakers plan to pick up the $16.4 million option on Bynum's contract next season. However, Buss warned that under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement that was put into place in December, thus ending the NBA's 161-day lockout, the Lakers are unable to be as free-spending as they were in the past.
"With the new CBA, they put a lot of restrictions on teams that spend a lot of money. They want to make the playing field level and one way of doing it is penalize the teams that are spending a lot of money," Buss said. "We have historically spent a lot of money. That has to change."
The Lakers will try to parse down their hefty payroll of approximately $85 million for this season, which is well above the $70.1 million luxury tax level. While they will owe a dollar-for-dollar penalty to the league office at the end of this season of approximately $15 million, it will be much harsher in two seasons when all the terms of the new CBA kick in. For teams $0-$5 million more than the luxury tax, there will be a $1.50 per dollar penalty; $5 million-$10 million over is $1.75; $10 million-$15 million is $2.50; and $15 million-$20 million is $3.25. If a team finds itself above the luxury tax four years out of any five-year period, it will owe a repeater tax which would apply an extra dollar to every increment (i.e. if a team was $0-$5 million over, it would have to pay $2.50 instead of $1.50 per every dollar above the line).
Apart from the stricter financial penalties, teams operating above the luxury tax will not be privy to the full use of salary cap exceptions, meaning they will only be able to offer a "mini" mid-level exception, rather than a full mid-level exception to attract free agents.
The Lakers also will be affected by the new revenue-sharing model the NBA has adopted. Buss estimated the Lakers, who used to dole out approximately $4 million-$6 million a season in revenue sharing, now will owe anywhere from $50 million-$80 million in revenue sharing each season.
While all of the changes seemed targeted at the Lakers, Buss believes that the league made healthy changes.
"The lockout had to do with what is fair is fair," Buss said. "The percentages weren't correct and teams were losing money. I think what happened with the lockout and the new CBA and the revenue sharing all at one time, it looks like it was pointed towards the Lakers, but nobody actually pointed their finger at the Lakers. We're a very successful organization. We make a good amount of money and the other teams lose money and we're an easy target to try to get that money.
"We fought tooth and nail to keep the flexibility to keep this going. Obviously, we lost to a certain degree because we have lost our flexibility to spend money. The revenue sharing was, in our mind, excessive but to other people it wasn't."
Buss said there are no hard feelings toward commissioner David Stern because of the changes that were made.
"The commissioner is very fair," Buss said. "It doesn't seem like it, but he's doing the job that he's supposed to do. We have a great relationship with David. Personally, I love the guy. I was in those meetings during the CBA negotiations. He was fighting for us, he was fighting for the Lakers and I think it all turned out pretty good."
There weren't warm-and-fuzzy feelings toward Stern, however, when the three-team trade between the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets and Lakers was vetoed on the eve of training camp, blocking the Lakers from receiving Chris Paul.
"Basically, we had a deal and the commissioner didn't think that it was a good deal and he has every right to veto it," Buss said. "It shocked us. I was in (Lakers general manager) Mitch (Kupchak's) office when that happened and I was ducking from things that he was throwing against the wall."
Jim Buss said he has never considered trading Kobe Bryant.