He signed a two-year contract extension Monday morning for $48.5 million that stands to keep him with the Lakers until he is two months shy of his 38th birthday.
He ended several months of speculation before even playing a game, terminating his lame-duck status in what could have been the final year of a contract paying him $30.5 million this season.
He signed the extension around 8 a.m. at the El Segundo office of his agent, Rob Pelinka, and later posted on Twitter the phrase "Laker 4 Life."
The Lakers felt comfortable after seeing him practice last week, even though he went through full contact for only two days before stopping because of "general soreness" in his left foot, the same one that housed the torn Achilles' tendon he sustained last April.
Bryant will make $23.5 million next season and $25 million in 2015-16, financially killing the Lakers' ability to sign two high-impact free agents next summer.
But the Lakers didn't expect
"That's a fairy tale, LeBron to the Lakers," said a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to publicly comment on it.
The Lakers might still try to lure
Anthony, by the way, fully supported Bryant's extension, telling reporters the Lakers "got off easy. He's Kobe, man. . . . I'd at least give him 40 [million] a year and let him bow out gracefully."
Bryant will be the
Lakers General Manager
The team released a photo of Bryant signing the deal, beaming alongside Kupchak, Pelinka, Lakers executive Jim Buss and team lawyer Jim Perzik.
"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," Kupchak said in a statement. "To play 20 years in the NBA, and to do so with the same team, is unprecedented, and quite an accomplishment."
But who will Bryant's future teammates be?
The salary cap is projected to be $62.5 million for 2014-15, and Bryant takes up more than one-third of the Lakers' space.
If he had taken a dramatic pay cut to $10 million next season, the Lakers would have had cap space to add two top-level free agents next July.
San Antonio was literally seconds away from winning the NBA title last June, and
Conversely, if Bryant had demanded and received the maximum 5% raise over his current salary, he would have taken home $32 million next season and $33.5 million in 2015-16, financially crushing many free-agent scenarios the next two years.
In addition to James, Anthony and Deng,
In July 2015, possible free agents include
The Lakers' future payroll looked very light before Monday's extension.
Steve Nash is under contract for $9.7 million next season, though the Lakers can waive him in June and spread his remaining money over three seasons.
Finances aside, it's hard to tell what Bryant will look like on the court.
He was active in a five-on-five halfcourt scrimmage last week, hitting top-of-the-key fade-aways, scoring on a backdoor layup and finding
But there were also mishaps. He air-balled an open three-point attempt and some of his passes were deflected or stolen.
"I'm just trying to do what I normally do, figure some things out about my game — what can I do at this stage, what I can't do at this stage," he said last week.
Bryant is 7½ months into a recovery estimated to take six to nine months. He will not play Tuesday against Washington, and the Lakers are reluctant to provide guidance beyond that.
He has done incredible things for the Lakers, winning five championships and appearing in two other
Now he'll be with the Lakers for his final game. Unless he has one more surprise for everybody after the 2015-16 season.