Next season is already affecting the Lakers, who have sidelined Bryant eight of the last 15 games.
Looking ahead was "part of the process," Lakers Coach Byron Scott acknowledged Monday, mentioning team executives Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss. "Obviously, that's what I'm trying to do and I know Mitch and Jim and everybody, they're all on board with that as well.
"We knew this was going to be a tough year but we also wanted some answers, and the answer, especially with Kobe, is he obviously could still play at a very high level."
The Lakers own the NBA's fourth-worst record (12-30) and have money to spend on a maximum-salary free agent in July.
Bryant, 36, has one more year and $25 million on his contract. He did not play in the Lakers' 115-100 loss Monday against the Phoenix Suns.
The goal with Bryant this season, Scott said, was getting as much as possible out of him but also to "not spend everything he has."
"Because if he plays every game, that's what he's going to do. He's going to go out and play the hardest that he can possibly play and then probably have to take the whole summer to try to recuperate. And that's just not him, either. He wants to continue to work to get better."
There's a pretty big gap, though. There's no guarantee the Lakers can significantly upgrade their roster, especially after striking out with the big names the last two summers.
They will try again to woo one or two players from a possible free-agent pool of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gay and Greg Monroe.
Will they succeed?
"That's a question that won't be answered until next year. We don't know," Scott said. "Obviously it's a good summer for us, a big summer with free-agent markets and things like that."
The Lakers are in decent position to retain the top-five protected draft pick they owe the Suns as part of the Steve Nash trade.
Bryant remained home while the Lakers played Phoenix and planned to rejoin them here Tuesday before they departed for New Orleans. They play the Pelicans on Wednesday and San Antonio on Friday before returning to Los Angeles.
On continuing to sit Bryant, Scott said there were "no arguments from him whatsoever. I just said, 'This is what I'm thinking…' and he said what he's been saying: 'Sounds good to me, coach.'"
Scott again used the word "preserve" before describing his mind-set in resting Bryant.
"Again, just trying to get his body where it's not as sore, hurting. He said the other day, 'It just aches everywhere,'" Scott said. "I know it's not going to be to the point where even four days or five days of rest means he's going to come back and feel great. But he [ideally] feels good enough to be able to go out there and play, like he did against Cleveland."
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