Kobe Bryant will not have the chance to become a free agent in 2014.
That's what Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss told ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne:
"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.
Buss added that the team has started contract extension talks with Bryant's representatives and that he fully expects a new deal to be completed before Bryant, 35, can become a free agent on July 1, 2014.
The Lakers will pay their star guard $30.5 million this year, the last year of his current contract. Bryant is currently rehabilitating from surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon and has not yet set a return date.
Bryant told ESPN Los Angeles in July that he intended on retiring as a Laker and that he didn't foresee any holdup in contract negotiations.
As of now, the Lakers have only three players -- Steve Nash, Nick Young and Robert Sacre -- under contract through next season, setting Los Angeles up with a ton of cap room in the summer of 2014. Extending Bryant to a reasonable deal would give the Lakers the flexibility to sign one or two more stars to pair with their future Hall of Famer.