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NBA

Gazing at the future

Bryant must make decisions on his contract at the end of the season; Lakers' success is a huge factor.

October 24, 2008|Mike Bresnahan | Bresnahan is a Times staff writer.

Then there's that other guy on the Lakers who might become a free agent next summer.

With all the recent talk about Andrew Bynum's contract status, little attention has been paid to Kobe Bryant's possibilities after this season.

Talk about options. Bryant has many, all of which lead to a win-win financial situation for him.

First, the hard facts: Bryant will earn $21.3 million this season and then have two years left on his Lakers contract for an additional $47.8 million.

Now for the interesting part.

He could play out the remaining years on his contract and become a free agent in July 2011, the most doubtful scenario because he'll be closing in on his 33rd birthday at that point. He'll want some end-of-career job security before then.

More likely, he will terminate his contract next July and become an unrestricted free agent who can sign with any NBA team for up to five years.

The Lakers could then offer Bryant about $135 million over five years, while other teams could offer about $129.5 million over the same time period. (The league's collective bargaining agreement allows most free agents to sign contracts of up to six years unless they turn 36 during the contract, which is why Bryant can sign for only five years.)

Bryant could also decide to wait one extra year and opt out after the 2009-10 season, which might make more sense financially for him because his per-season salary would actually be higher.

In July 2010, he could sign a four-year contract with the Lakers worth $112 million, an average annual salary of $28 million, or $1 million more per year than if he terminated his contract after this season. (In the summer of 2010, other NBA teams could offer Bryant four years and $108.4 million.)

Bryant is entering his 13th season with the Lakers. By many accounts, he wants to stay. The team wants to keep him in the fold and will presumably offer him the maximum amount if he terminates his contract after the season.

The tumultuous "trade me" events of last year are several miles behind Bryant and the franchise, thanks primarily to the unexpected, and remarkable, uptick in victories last season.

The Pau Gasol trade gave the Lakers immediate credibility in the front court. Bynum provides hope for the team's future.

Several journalists and oddsmakers have picked the Lakers to win the NBA championship next June.

Along those lines, Bryant seems at peace after winning his first MVP award last May and capturing his first gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.

Neither the Lakers nor Bryant, however, are peering too far into the future.

"You're asking me to project what a player may or may not do nine or 10 months from now. That's not something that we're prepared to do," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said.

"We feel that this team as presently comprised is in position to compete for a championship for the foreseeable future, and I think that's what Kobe wants, and I know that's what the people in Los Angeles want and that's what we want as an organization. So right now that's all we're focused on."

Bryant has been reluctant to talk about next summer. He recently brushed off a reporter's question about the possibility of playing overseas by saying it was "silly" before calling for the next question.

About the only thing the Lakers can do is offer Bryant the maximum contract and wait to see what he does.

There are only a handful of NBA teams that could be more than $22 million under the salary cap next summer and could afford Bryant -- Portland, Atlanta, Memphis and Oklahoma City.

There have also been reports of overseas teams that could offer him more money who are not bound by the laws of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.

Bryant would have to weigh whether he would be comfortable playing primarily in front of smaller crowds in games that aren't televised in the U.S.

Perhaps of greatest importance, overseas teams can't offer Bryant the chance to win an NBA championship trophy. He has three of them, only halfway to Michael Jordan's modern-day standard of six.

Either way, it will all be determined next July. Or, perhaps the summer after that. Or, less likely but still possible, in July 2011.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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