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Bryant Will Test Market

Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant said Monday afternoon that the legal events of recent months had not changed his mind, and that he would opt out of his Laker contract at the end of the season.

Bryant has the choice of playing for the Lakers next season for $14.6 million or becoming an unrestricted free agent. Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Derek Fisher have the same contract options and Shaquille O’Neal could become a free agent after next season.

Coach Phil Jackson has one season remaining on his contract and, according to Jackson, there have been no recent negotiations on an extension.

Conversely, the Lakers offered Bryant a three-year, $54.8 million extension more than a year ago and that offer, according to club sources, remains on the table. Bryant now qualifies for a four-year extension under the collective bargaining agreement.

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“We’ll just stay in the moment, just appreciate every day and every game, go from there,” he said.

Later, on the possibility of the Lakers looking very different next season, he added, “In sports, everything comes to an end.”

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Bryant has said he has been treated well in most public venues and, although he has yet to play an exhibition game, fans have responded to the felony sexual assault charge against him with support.

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He has not watched a game from the bench, however, and all of the Lakers’ preseason games are considered Laker home games, even in arenas other than Staples Center, meaning partisan crowds.

The Lakers won’t play on the road until Nov. 1 in Phoenix, then on Nov. 4 begin a four-game trip through Milwaukee, San Antonio, New Orleans and Memphis. Bryant said he was unconcerned.

“I’ve never heard [of] a fan blocking a jump shot,” he said.

Booed in most road arenas because he is a high-profile Laker and in one, Philadelphia’s, despite spending many years living there, Bryant has developed a firm road defiance.

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""He stood up to all kinds of pressure in his career,” Jackson said. “This is different, of course. We anticipate he’s going to be bigger than a lot of people that are there.”

O’Neal offered support.

“As long as no one ... [steps] across the line, I don’t have a problem with him,” he said. “The first one that steps across the line

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Horace Grant, who suffered a concussion in a game in San Diego a week ago and has not played or practiced since, was cleared to run Monday by his neurologist. If Grant suffered from no headaches through this morning, he would be allowed to resume practice.... Forward Slava Medvedenko is doubtful for the Lakers’ final two exhibition games because of a bruised left heel and is questionable for next Tuesday night’s regular-season opener against the Dallas Mavericks, a club spokesperson said Monday. Medvedenko apparently suffered the injury Sunday in Bakersfield.... Center Jamal Sampson is day to day because of back spasms.... A day after playing his first game in 11 days because of a bruised heel, O’Neal practiced and said the heel was healthy.


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