FROM ORLANDO, FLA. — OK, Mr. Elusive Man, here's the deal.
I asked it. You said it. I'm holding you to it.
It was late in Saturday's news conference when the topic of Kobe Bryant's future arose.
Maybe it was because he was in a good mood, or maybe it was because he was trying to deflect attention from that awful purple sweat thing he was wearing, but Bryant actually played along.
A questioner reminded him that he could terminate his contract after this season
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Bryant said, laughing.
The same questioner reminded him that it would soon be a topic.
"It won't be a topic," Bryant said. "Won't be an issue."
The questioner asked him to elaborate.
"No," Bryant said. "That's exactly why it won't be an issue."
It was my turn. I first accused Bryant of bringing up the subject, and he laughed again.
"I didn't bring it up," he said. "I deflected."
Then I asked the only question on this subject that I figured he might answer.
I asked, could you imagine playing for anyone else besides the Lakers next year?
"No," he said.
Bingo. That's enough for me, and should be enough for the Lakers.
Unless Lakers officials somehow botch the negotiations for the new deal Bryant will demand after opting out of his contract -- and they won't, they love Kobe -- then Bryant will be around to attempt another three-peat.
As if that wasn't enough of a Finals day-off hint, Bryant also pretty much counted Phil Jackson along for the ride.
"I've been spoiled my whole career playing with Phil, it's hard to imagine playing for anybody else, obviously," Bryant said.
When asked whether Jackson was thinking about retiring after passing Red Auerbach and becoming the NBA's all-time coaching leader with 10 championship rings, Bryant smiled.
"I don't think -- I think he's just more amused by everybody thinking that he's thinking that, if that makes any sense," he said. "He's really just in the moment."
It's a moment the Lakers should savor, sitting here with a historically insurmountable three-games-to-one lead over the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals.
If the Lakers are able to close this out -- and my guess is that it will happen tonight here against a Magic team that is frustrated to distraction -- it has become clear that their journey is only starting.
Bryant is coming back. And while Jackson won't confirm anything, insiders say only health issues would keep him from not only completing the remaining year of his deal, but possibly signing a two-year extension.
Pau Gasol is coming back. Andrew Bynum is coming back. Derek Fisher is coming back.
And Jackson just intimated that, contrary to previous belief, both Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom could be coming back.
It's all about how much money owner Jerry Buss is willing to spend. Given that these Lakers could win three more consecutive championships starting tonight, here's guessing he will spend that money.
Tonight's history could belong to Jackson, who would pass Auerbach as the greatest coach in NBA history.
But two more championships down the road, the history could be found in the Lakers tying the Boston Celtics with 17 championships and Bryant tying Michael Jordan with six.
That's a lot of money still out there on the table. Bryant's legs and Jackson's back willing, the Lakers would have a legitimate shot at it. And Buss has never been known to push away his chair early.
"I'm just trying to get this damn fourth one," Bryant said Saturday.
Well, of course, of course, but that truly seems to be a foregone conclusion here.
The last time the Lakers could close out a series on the road, they played their best game of the postseason in Denver. There is no doubt that they now understand the importance of a big and quick finish.
The team that once couldn't figure out how to play hard enough for 16 postseason wins, now just has to play hard enough for one.
"It's not difficult at all," Bryant said. "We just focus on what we've fought to do."
Would they rather win it at home? No. Knowing that even one win by a Magic team that is two shots from leading this series three games to one could be empowering, they want to do it now.
Is anyone here worried that there wouldn't be a victory parade because Los Angeles can't afford the $1-million bill? No problem. Jerry Buss should step in and pay it himself.
The Lakers are one of the few entities that bind our diverse city, and Buss knows it. The fans at past parades have been a wonderful melting pot of races and ethnicities and neighborhoods.
Looking up into the crowds while walking down Figueroa at those parades, I have seen Los Angeles as I have never seen it before or since -- beaming, bonding, priceless.
The city has supported Buss' team all season. It would be a great thank-you gesture for the team to pay for the celebration.
And after Saturday's news, I'm guessing they won't have to wait seven more years for another one.