Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak eased his way into the interview room with a satisfied look on his face after having completed a contract extension with Pau Gasol.
Kupchak offered a “good afternoon” to the assembled media Wednesday before being asked where Gasol was. Kupchak turned to look behind himself.
“Believe me, he’ll be here,” Kupchak said.
On Wednesday, Gasol officially signed a three-year extension worth up to $64.7 million, depending on the NBA salary-cap figures to be determined in 2011.
“Actually, we just signed it, so maybe he won’t be here,” Kupchak joked. “We should have had him sign it after the press conference.”
About two minutes later, Gasol strolled into his news conference at the team’s El Segundo training facility wearing a T-shirt and sweats, looking relaxed.
“Like Mitch said, it’s been one of the worst secrets kept for the last week or two,” Gasol said. “It’s been hard to contain my happiness and excitement about this, but I was forced to do so because that’s the way I felt. Until this day came, I wanted to finally release all this excitement.”
Gasol, 29, is making $16.5 million this season and will make $17.8 million next season, which would have been the last year of his contract. He will now be locked up through the 2013-14 season with the extension.
Kupchak said he started the negotiations with Gasol’s representatives six months ago, and things picked up during training camp at the end of September.
Rather than test the free-agent market when his contract expired, Gasol said he felt comfortable signing with the Lakers now.
He is playing for the defending NBA champion, and the Lakers are favored to repeat.
Gasol is averaging 17 points on 54.3% shooting, 12.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 16 games this season, 15 of which the Lakers have won.
“It gives me tremendous peace of mind and safety and confidence on just dedicating myself to play and continue to make the team better,” Gasol said. “And it probably gives me economic and financial safety [for] . . . the rest of my life.”
Bryant extension next?
Kupchak’s next assignment is to get Kobe Bryant and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson signed to new contracts.
The Lakers have had positive talks with Bryant about a three-year contract extension that could net him up to $91 million, depending on the salary-cap figures.
Bryant has two years left on his current deal that pays him $23 million this season and $24.8 million next season.
Signing the extension would keep Bryant as a Laker for the same period as Gasol.
“We continue to have dialogue with Kobe and his representative,” Kupchak said. “I do anticipate continued discussions.”
Jackson, in the last year of his deal that pays him $12 million, said over the weekend that he wouldn’t take a pay cut. But he also sounded unsure about his future.
“To me it boils down to how does [Jackson] feel at the end of the season, if he feels healthy and if he sees growth and a future with this team, he’ll come back,” Kupchak said. “I think cutting a deal is the easy part.”
Bryant injury update
Bryant, who “tweaked” his left knee during the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s game against the Thunder, didn’t come to the training facility to get treatment Wednesday on his knee. But the Lakers said Bryant is expected to play in the Christmas Day game at Staples Center against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Lakers didn’t practice Wednesday but will get back to work today.