Bryant to become free agent this summer
Kobe Bryant said repeatedly Friday that he wants to be a Laker "for life," though he still plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer.
Responding to a report that he has already made it clear to the Lakers organization that he has decided to leave, Bryant said the story was untrue.
"I want to be a Laker for the rest of my life. That hasn't changed," said Bryant, who has been with Los Angeles throughout his eight-year NBA career.
He said he wants to opt out of his contract to experience what it would be like to be courted as a free agent, though he said — as he has throughout the season — his first choice is to stay.
Speaking with reporters for about 30 minutes at an All-Star media availability session, Bryant tried to deflect questions about his future by saying he wasn't thinking about it.
Bryant said he has kept in regular contact with general manager Mitch Kupchak, who faces the prospect of losing Bryant as a free agent with nothing in return if the 25-year-old superstar decides to leave.
When it was pointed out to Bryant that someone who wants to be a Laker for life should have no need to test free agency, Bryant stuck to his theme.
"It's just about exploring options," Bryant said. "That doesn't mean I want to go somewhere else."
A report in the Los Angeles Daily News quoted four anonymous NBA sources, including three within the Lakers organization, as saying Bryant has been declaring his intention to leave to people within the organization.
"I've spoken to him recently, and he said he has not made his mind up and if he did he'd tell me — and he has not told me," Kupchak told the Associated Press.
The NBA trading deadline is Thursday.
"Kobe's not going anywhere," Kupchak said.