(Photo: Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports)
Kobe Bryant, it appears, will retire with the Los Angeles Lakers after all.
The Lakers announced Monday they signed a two-year contract extension with the star shooting guard, who was scheduled to be a free agent this summer. Bryant will be paid a combined $48.5 million for the two seasons in his fully guaranteed deal and, as such, will remain the highest paid player in the NBA, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. Bryant will be paid $23.5 million next season and $25 million in the 2014-15 campaign.
The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because contract terms are not disclosed by the team.
If Bryant's situation had not been resolved, the Lakers would have had their hands full in free agency in a complicated way. They have loads of salary cap space and are hoping to lure the likes of the Miami Heat's LeBron James (if he opts out of his current contract) or the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony their way to pair them with Bryant, and that goal - while still extremely daunting - now is a little easier.
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"This is a very happy day for Lakers fans and for the Lakers organization," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. "We've said all along that our priority and hope was to have Kobe finish his career as a Laker, and this should ensure that that happens. To play 20 years in the NBA, and to do so with the same team, is unprecedented, and quite an accomplishment. Most importantly however, it assures us that one of the best players in the world will remain a Laker, bringing us excellent play and excitement for years to come."
Bryant, 35, is expected to return from his April Achilles tendon tear within the coming days or weeks. He began practicing with the team again on Nov. 16. ESPN first reported the terms of Bryant's deal.