Jim Buss: Kobe Bryant is a top priority for the Lakers

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Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the team has started talks with Kobe Bryant on a contract extension and expects to sign the five-time NBA champion to a new deal before he can become a free agent July 1.

“I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent,” Buss said Friday night. “That’s not going to happen. Kobe is a top priority for us. He’s a Laker legend and always will be. I don’t think we’re done winning championships with him yet.

“[Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak and [Bryant’s agent] Rob Pelinka have been talking, but with him being hurt, it has slowed the process some. I don’t know when it’ll get done, but I have faith in Rob and Mitch to work things out.”

The Orange County Register reported Thursday that Buss would allow Bryant to become a free agent because of the pay structure in the NBA.

“We’ve probably talked,” said Kobe about talking to Buss, “but I’m putting off any thought of that.”

Bryant, 35, is entering the final season of his contract, which will pay him $30.45 million.

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