LOS ANGELES // Kobe Bryant has opted not to terminate the final two years of his contract with the Lakers and is expected to sign a three-year extension this month. Bryant, 30, who led the Lakers to their 15th NBA crown with a 4-1 series win over Orlando last month, has played his entire 13-season career in Los Angeles. He had until Tuesday to become an unrestricted free agent but decided not to exercise that right.
"Kobe passed on his option to cancel the final two years of his contract," John Black, the Lakers vice-president of public relations, said. Bryant, the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals, had signalled last month he was committed to staying in LA. "We want to do this thing again and again so you know we'll be back next year ready to go," Bryant told Lakers fans at the team's celebration parade on June 17.
An 11-times All-Star and 2008 MVP, Bryant and Derek Fisher, 34, are the veteran hands in the Lakers starting line-up with additional experience coming from forwards Lamar Odom, 29 and the Spaniard Pau Gasol, 28. Los Angeles reached the NBA Finals a year ago but lost to the Boston Celtics in six games. However, they were able to take the next step this year with Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, both of whom had injuries a season ago, adding much-needed depth.
But there are doubts surrounding Odom and Ariza, who are free agents and could decide to leave. Odom earned US$14.1 million (Dh51m) last season but will have to take a pay cut if he is to stay. Ariza, 24, is expected to get a significant increase on the $3.1m he earned last season. The Lakers management have consistently said they intend to keep their NBA champions team intact. * Reuters