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Kobe Bryant will play next season, but then ...

Lakers star briefly had thoughts of retiring after injuring shoulder

Kobe Bryant reiterated that he plans to return to the Lakers next season after recovering from shoulder surgery, but, at the moment, he doesn't expect to play beyond that.

Speaking to reporters before the Lakers played the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center, Bryant acknowledged he briefly had second thoughts about coming back after getting the news of his shoulder injury.

Bryant said he recalled thinking, "I don't know if I can do another nine months [of rehabilitation], this is crazy."

But even though the setback is "discouraging," Bryant said he quickly turned his thoughts to preparing to play in his 20th season in the NBA.

"There was never a question for me whether or not I was going to play next year," when he stands to earn $25 million in salary, he said.

Then he was asked about extending that contract and playing another season. "As I sit here right now, do I want to play after next year? No. That could change," he said.

Did Bryant, 36, know what factors might make up his mind one way or the other? "No idea," he replied.

Bryant had surgery in late January to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, the third consecutive season that the Lakers' star has had his season cut short because of an injury. He tore his Achilles' tendon in April 2013. After returning for the 2013-14 season, he played only six games before he suffered a fractured bone in his left knee.

"This [rehabilitation] is much more encouraging," Bryant said of the shoulder. "I can move around a lot more. I can pretty much do anything."

Except shoot a basketball.

"As far as shooting, I don't know" how soon that might happen, Bryant said. "Probably a month or so."

Bryant said he remained motivated by "the thrill of the challenge of trying to come back. It gets tougher and tougher to try to get back up."

Bryant played in 35 games this season before the surgery, a season in which he will make $23.5 million. He averaged 22.3 points a game but shot a career-low 37.3%, compared with a career average of 45.4% coming into this season.

Before the surgery, Lakers Coach Byron Scott often rested Bryant in hopes of keeping him healthy all season.

Bryant was asked Tuesday if he expected to have his minutes limited again next season. "Honestly, I don't know," he said. "At this stage all I can do is just try to do whatever I can to try be as healthy as possible. If something's going to go, it goes."

He also revealed that his shoulder had been bothering him for more than a decade.

"It's been there for a long time," he said. "Judging by the pain, I've had that same pain in my shoulder since 2001."

With the Lakers playing so poorly this season, there has been speculation about a high draft pick or acquiring a free agent who could help the team rebuild next season.

Bryant said he doesn't follow college players to see which ones might be available to the Lakers, nor does he give the team a list of available free agents he thinks they should pursue.

"I'm not involved like that and I don't want to be," he said.

"You've got to trust each other [and let] everybody do their job, the best job that they can and I'll do the best job I can and we'll see how it goes," he said.

Still, Bryant said he would like to see a premier player join the team next season. "I'd much rather hand the keys over to somebody that can take this organization right from the jump," he said.

Follow Jim Peltz on Twitter @PeltzLATimes

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