- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Kobe Bryant isn't going anywhere.
Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss said Friday that the team has started talks with Bryant's representative on a contract extension for the five-time NBA champion and fully expects a new deal to be completed before the star guard can become a free agent July 1.
"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."
Bryant, 35, is in the final year of a current deal that will pay him $30.5 million this season, the highest salary in the NBA.
He is recovering from surgery on his left Achilles tendon and hasn't set a return date yet.
In July, Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com that he fully intends to retire as a Laker and doesn't believe there will be any problem securing an extension for as long as he can play at an elite level.
The question for both sides is how much he'll be willing to play for in the future, with the Lakers positioned to pursue two top free agents in the summer of 2014.
"As a businessman, the goal is always to not take a pay cut," Bryant said in July. "But ... "
The Orange County Register reported Thursday that Buss had talked to Bryant and believed they had an understanding that the Lakers would allow him to become a free agent so the team could first spend on other free agents to upgrade its roster.
Bryant confirmed to the Register that he had spoken to Buss about the situation, saying, "We've probably talked. But I'm putting off any thought of that."
Instead, Bryant is focused on coming back from what could have been a career-threatening injury.
"I've also heard from so many people who have dealt with something like this, and it's like they're expecting me to beat it, so I have to do it for them, too," Bryant told the Register.