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Phil Jackson expects Kobe Bryant to play beyond season, but with Lakers?

Lakers star Kobe Bryant, right, speaks with coach Phil Jackson in 2010.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Kobe Bryant is heading into his 20th season and final year of his current contract with the Lakers.

Will the 2015-16 season be his last one in the NBA?

Bryant’s former coach Phil Jackson isn’t sure it is.

“I don’t think it’s his last year,” the Knicks president said in New York on Friday. “Sounds like it may be his last year as a Laker.”

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Bryant and the Lakers start training camp on Monday. The All-Star guard has said he expects the coming season to be his last, but also noted that he won’t make that decision until the year is complete.

In separate interviews, team co-owners Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss have both said that the Lakers would want Bryant to return, should he choose to continue his career.

“He just has to know, at that age, and that many miles on you, what is your role?” Jim Buss said to The Times in August. “We’ll explain the role, and if he still wants to do that and that’s how he wants to go out, that’s fine with me.”

Jackson, who coached Bryant to five titles with the Lakers, may be considering the team’s recent struggles (winning just 21 games last season) in projecting that Bryant may want to look for another chance at a championship elsewhere as a free agent.

Without Bryant’s salary, the Lakers could have nearly $60 million in spending power next summer -- less if the team re-signs center Roy Hibbert, but still enough for at least one maximum-salaried player.

Bryant is currently the highest paid player in the NBA at $25 million for what may or, if Jackson is correct, may not be the last in the guard’s surefire Hall of Fame career.

Whether the league considers Jackson’s comments to be tampering remains to be seen. Executives are typically penalized when discussing the contract status of players of other franchises.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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