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Lakers sign Kobe Bryant to two-year contract extension

(@Lakers)Kobe Bryant has signed a deal to remain with the Lakers through 2016. (@Lakers)

The Lakers announced Monday that guard Kobe Bryant has signed a contract extension. The deal will pay Bryant $48.5 million over two years, according to ESPN.com and USA Today Sports.

The terms represent a pay cut for Bryant, who is the highest paid player in the NBA this season at $30.5 million, but he will remain at the very top of the league's player salaries lists. His reported $23.5 million salary in 2014-15 and $25 million salary in 2015-16 are currently league-leading, narrowly topping Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire and Nets guard Joe Johnson.

“This is a very happy day for Lakers fans and for the Lakers organization,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “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. To play 20 years in the NBA, and to do so with the same team, is unprecedented, and quite an accomplishment. Most importantly however, it assures us that one of the best players in the world will remain a Laker, bringing us excellent play and excitement for years to come.”

The extension will run until just a few weeks before Bryant's 38th birthday. He has referred to this stage of his career as his "last chapter" and this deal could well carry him into retirement.

"Laker for life," Bryant wrote on Twitter.

Both sides had indicated in recent months that they wanted to continue their marriage, and this agreement sets a direction for a franchise that has been floundering in the wake of Dwight Howard's departure and Bryant's ongoing rehabilitation from a torn Achilles. That the Lakers did this deal so quickly suggests that the franchise isn't yet ready to imagine life without its face, and the Lakers now remain "Kobe's Team" for better and worse.

By agreeing to the deal early, the Lakers trade total salary cap flexibility next summer for the certainty of keeping their biggest star happy and in town. Hopes that Bryant would take a heavy hometown discount to help facilitate a roster reconstruction clearly did not come to fruition, a fact that could wind up standing between Bryant and his sixth title. 

With their cupboards bare, the Lakers now have their hands full trying to construct a contender after giving roughly 40 percent of their salary cap to one player. As it stands, Bryant will join guard Steve Nash ($9.7 million) as the only contracts on L.A.'s books that aren't minimum deals or rookie contracts. The Lakers should enter the 2014  free agency period with at least $20 million in salary cap space to chase a max-level player or fill out the rest of roster as they see fit. The Lakers could gain additional flexibility if Nash decided to retire for medical reasons, something he said recently he won't do, but the size of Bryant's contract will influence everything the Lakers do between now and its expiration.

From Bryant's perspective, there wasn't much to think about when it came to evaluating the terms of this contract. Financially speaking, this deal is a coup for a player of Bryant's age who is still rehabilitating from a serious injury. Additionally, he keeps his franchise legend status, he has a clear path towards retirement, and he gets serious short-term peace of mind when it comes to his Achilles. He is now able to return this season without worrying about how his play -- or another injury -- might impact his value in free agency. He also gets to avoid the daily questions, rumors and discussions about his future that were sure to pick up as July inched close.

Bryant, 35, ranked No. 4 on SI.com’s “Fortunate 50″ list of the highest-paid professional athletes back in May. He was No. 2 among NBA players, trailing only Heat forward LeBron James, with an estimated annual take of $46.9 million, which included $19 million in outside endorsements. Bryant also ranked No. 3 on the NBA’s global jersey sales for the 2012-13 season, trailing James and Bulls guard Derrick Rose.

The 15-time All-Star has career earnings of $279 million, including this season, and his new deal will push that figure to $327 million. He is out indefinitely after tearing his Achilles back in April but he returned to practice with the Lakers last week. The five-time champion needs just 676 points to move past Michael Jordan for the No. 3 spot on the all-time scoring list. He averaged 27.3 points, 6 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game last season.

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