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Bryant opts to stay with NBA champion Lakers, for now

KOBE Bryant has opted not to terminate the final two years of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and is expected to sign a three-year contract extension later this month.

Bryant, who led the Lakers to their 15th NBA crown with a convincing 4-1 series win over the Orlando Magic last month, has spent his entire 13-season career in Los Angeles.

He had until Tuesday to become an unrestricted free agent but decided not to exercise that option with the Lakers seemingly poised to add more titles in the next few seasons.

"Kobe passed on his option to cancel the final two years of his contract," John Black, vice president of public relations for the Lakers, said yesterday.

"However, at the conclusion of next season, he will have the option to cancel the final year of his contract."

Local media however have reported Bryant will sign a contract extension.

Bryant, the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals, had signalled last month he was committed to staying in Los Angeles.

"We want to do this thing again and again so you know we'll be back next year ready to go," he told thousands of Lakers fans who swarmed the streets of downtown Los Angeles for the team's celebration parade on June 17.


"Where would I go?" the 30-year-old added with a broad grin. "This is my home."

An 11-times All-Star and 2008 MVP, Bryant and 34-year-old Derek Fisher are the veteran hands in the Lakers starting line-up with additional experience coming from forwards Lamar Odom, 29 and 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.

The wild card, as ever, is free agency and that window of unpredictability opened on Wednesday with doubts surrounding both Odom and Ariza, who are free agents and could decide to leave.

The versatile Odom earned US$14.1 million last season but he will have to take a substantial pay cut if he is to stay.

Ariza, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Tuesday, is expected to get a significant increase on the US$3.1 million he earned last season.

No verbal agreements have yet been reached with either player by the Lakers management, who have consistently said they intend to keep their NBA champion team intact.


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