Lakers Free Agency News: Will Kobe Bryant Return In 2014? L.A. To Pursue LeBron James, Paul George, Or Dirk Nowitzki?

Kobe Bryant Injury
Kobe Bryant was inactive for the Lakers four-game sweep in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Reuters

With a month to go until the start of the 2013-2014 NBA season, the Los Angeles still don’t know when Kobe Bryant will return from his injury. The future Hall of Famer tore his Achilles towards the end of last year, and is working to get back for the team’s opener.

For the 2014-2015 season, though, the Lakers have even bigger questions surrounding Bryant. The veteran is entering the final year of his contract and is set to become a free agent in July. It’s unlikely that Bryant is looking to play for anther organization, but the Lakers have a big decision to make.

Bryant is the highest-paid player in the NBA and is due to make even more money on his next deal. The maximum five percent raise would pay him $32 million in 2014, according to the L.A. Times. Los Angeles may not have to give him that much, and Bryant has said that he might take a pay cut to help the team’s salary cap situation. If the Lakers want to keep their best player, however, it’s going to cost them.

When offering Bryant a new contract, the Lakers will have to keep in mind their plans for free agency this summer. With Bryant’s deal coming off the books, along with most of their other players, the Lakers are only obligated to pay Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, and Nick Young in 2014-2015. That leaves L.A. with a lot of options for the offseason, especially with the free agent class that will be available.

Some of the best players in the NBA will be looking for new contracts in 2014. Atop the list, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will reportedly be sought-after by Los Angeles. In recent interviews, Anthony has indicated that he wants to remain with the New York Knicks, but James has been noncommittal about his future. If the Lakers have enough room under the salary cap to lure another top free agent to Los Angeles, they have a chance to land James and form a “super team” even better than the Miami Heat.

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade from Miami will have the option to opt out of their contracts, as well. Zach Randolph, Luol Deng and Dirk Nowitzki are also on the list of potential free agents. The Dallas Mavericks star may be the player that makes the most sense to join a potential roster that includes James or Anthony. He’d give L.A. the much-needed help in the frontcourt, and a big man who can shoot would help Mike D’Antoni’s system be as effective as possible.

Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe are set to become restricted free agents. There have been unsubstantiated rumors that George would be interested in joining the Lakers, in part because he grew up in Southern California. Yahoo! Sports, however, is reporting that he is close to signing a five-year extension with the Indiana Pacers.

It’s hard to imagine the Lakers not giving Bryant as much money as he demands, but the organization will have to at least consider life without the shooting guard. He averaged 27.3 points per game in 2012-2013, but his defense was notably worse than in previous seasons, and the club was only able to become the seventh seed with him as the best player. Letting Bryant go would afford them the opportunity to sign two younger, and possible better, stars.

After they lost Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets this summer, the Lakers held off on making any major signings, preparing to be under the salary cap in 2014. Giving Bryant a big contract, though, could percent them from making a lot of noise next offseason.

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