Mitch Kupchak expects Kobe back

ByBaxter Holmes ESPN logo
Thursday, January 29, 2015

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he fully expects Kobe Bryant to play next season after the Lakers star suffered a recent season-ending shoulder injury.

"I don't think he's retiring," Kupchak said Thursday after the Lakers' shootaround. "He said he's looking forward to training camp. That's what we expect."

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered last week that he had surgically repaired Wednesday. If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season, the final year of his contract with the Lakers.

Bryant, who will be 37 this summer, is the NBA's highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season. He is under contract for $25 million next year, which would be his 20th NBA season.

Kupchak shot down the notion that Bryant's heavy minutes load earlier in the season -- he played a team-high 35.4 minutes per game through the team's first 27 games -- led to his injury.

"I don't think that had anything to do with anything [and] certainly not the injury," Kupchak said.

And when asked what the Lakers could do to help Bryant play out the final year of his contract, Kupchak said, "I think a big key will be [that] we have to improve the talent level on the team."

He added, "As you get older and you experience injuries in this league -- and he's played what will be 20 years -- it's difficult to play when you're going to lose three or four games or five games.

"When you're winning games, it's a lot easier to get ready to play and play through aches and pains. To me, a big part of Kobe's contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the offseason."

Kupchak said he expects Bryant's rehab to take all nine months.

"He'll be in a brace and it will be an awkward-looking brace," Kupchak said. "I think that would prevent him from doing anything for quite some time in terms of being able to use your lower body. But at some point in time, his shoulder will get to the point where he can jog and do treadmill and do things on the court. I'm not that concerned with the conditioning part of it."

Kupchak also defended the two-year, $48.5 million extension that the Lakers signed Bryant to in 2013 even though Bryant has played sparingly because of injuries over the past three seasons.

"We have no regrets at all," Kupchak said. "He is worth every penny of it."

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