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Lakers' Kobe Bryant gets new contract, but can he get another ring?

Los Angeles LakersSportsPro BasketballKobe BryantBasketballLeBron JamesNBA

The Lakers experienced an early day, a 9 a.m. charter flight to Washington D.C.

As usual, Kobe Bryant was up before any of them.

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.

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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 LeBron James to sign with them next summer if he opted out of his contract with Miami.

"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 Carmelo Anthony for maximum money or go for slightly lower value with Luol Deng, a versatile forward who was irritated when Chicago did not give him a contract beyond this season.

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 NBA's highest-paid player no matter what happens next summer with Anthony and James. He will almost surely break the NBA's longevity record with one team, held by Utah's John Stockton (19 seasons).

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said the contract news should mean a "very happy day" for the Lakers organization and its fans.

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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 Tim Duncan's willingness to take a pay cut to $9.7 million helped make it possible.

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, Chris Bosh and Zach Randolph are potential free agents next summer.

In July 2015, possible free agents include Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Monta Ellis, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, Arron Afflalo, Tyson Chandler, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and DeAndre Jordan.

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. Robert Sacre will make $915,000 next season and Nick Young holds a player option for $1.2 million. The Lakers will also have a first-round pick projected to make between $1 million and $3 million.

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 Wesley Johnson for a layup.

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 NBA Finals in his first 17 seasons. His jersey is a standard among the league's top sellers and his first name is easily identified among even non-sports fans.

Now he'll be with the Lakers for his final game. Unless he has one more surprise for everybody after the 2015-16 season.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles LakersSportsPro BasketballKobe BryantBasketballLeBron JamesNBA
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