As the 2013 NBA Finals are set to get underway, the Los Angeles Lakers will be watching the series from home for a third straight year. The Lakers were swept in the first round by the eventual Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs, and have a lot of work to do, in order to get back to competing for a title.

The Lakers hopes of making a run in the 2013 playoffs went out the window when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles in mid-April. Not only did the injury hurt the club’s chances this year, but it could also affect next season. Los Angeles announced that Bryant could miss up to nine months with the injury, but the All-Star is aiming to return sooner.

In a recent interview with Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Bryant reiterated his intention to return for the start of the 2013-2014 NBA season. He won’t be able to begin his rehab until the tendon is completely healed, but he’s not looking to miss any time.

While there’s a chance Bryant could miss several weeks or months next year, the Lakers could lose Dwight Howard for the entire season. The center will officially become a free agent on July 1, and he plans to explore the possibility of signing with other teams. There have already been rumors that he’s interested in joining the Houston Rockets. The Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors will also be in play to acquire the free agent.

Despite their reported problems during the regular season, Bryant has continued to state that he hopes Howard returns. He understands that Howard should explore his options, but will ultimately try to convince his teammate to stay in Los Angeles.

"For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be," Bryant said. "We all want him here. But then that's when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don't start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.”

Bryant is hoping Howard will come back and the duo can help the shooting guard win his sixth career championship. Doing so would tie Bryant with Michael Jordan, who Phil Jackson recently compared him to in his book. The head coach made news by indicating Jordan was the better player.

"I talked to Phil about it," said Bryant, who added that he has not read the book. "I said, 'You know, you can't compare me at [age] 21-22-23 to Michael at 28-29-30. That's not a fair comparison.’ But, you know, I'm comfortable at resting on my five [championships] and what I had to do for this team to be successful.”

The comparison between Bryant and the former Chicago Bulls star has been a popular debate for years. With LeBron James winning his fourth career MVP and reaching his fourth NBA Finals, the Miami Heat star has also entered the discussion.

Last season, Bryant proved to still be an elite scorer, even in his 17th season. However, his time to match Jordan’s six rings may be running out. The Lakers have failed to get out of the second round of the playoffs in three straight years, and Bryant has indicated that he might retire when his contract expires in 2014.