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End of Kobe era won't hold up future

The Los Angeles Lakers have been built around Kobe Bryant for nearly two decades, but the organization is preparing to turn the page, even if Bryant is still on the roster.

"At some point we have to start a new run, and that's definitely going to include Kobe next year," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday.

"To jeopardize the next five or seven years ... [by bringing] in old veterans that make a lot of money, just to win one more year, because that's Kobe's last year or could be his last year, I'm not sure that fits into doing it the right way."

The 36-year-old Bryant is slated to make a league-high $25 million in 2015-16, the final year of a two-year extension he signed with the Lakers in December 2013.

Kupchak was asked if the Lakers had enough to contend in the final year of Bryant's deal.

"It can turn quickly, but a lot of it's out of our control," Kupchak said, according to the team's website. "If you have picks and you have a lot of financial flexibility, there are a lot of ways to improve your team quickly. I can't sit here and say that's what we're planning on.

"We're going to look to do this the right way, which is to try to make prudent decisions about youth and veterans and making commitments to players under the existing rules. I'd love to be able to put together a young team that can win 55 games next year, but it's not that easy. It's just not that easy. It's not off the table. It's our goal, but we want to make sure we do it the right way."

Kupchak's seemingly patient approach wouldn't seem to sit well with Bryant, who recently said in a GQ interview, "I know what Mitch tells me. I know what Jim and Jeanie [Buss] tell me. I know that they are hell-bent about having a championship-caliber team next season, as am I."

Bryant played just 35 games this season before a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder sidelined him, marking his third consecutive season-ending injury.

Kupchak said he also hasn't spoken with Bryant about the possibility that Bryant plays beyond his contract, as Lakers coach Byron Scott has recently suggested that he believes Bryant could do.

"At this point, it's really not something that you would talk about," Kupchak said. "[Bryant] just had a very complex surgery and is under contract for another year. He has to get back where he feels he can perform at a high level, and that's like months and months down the road. So to really look beyond that, from our point of view, is not realistic.

"I think what Byron was saying was: If he didn't get hurt and he returns to be able to play at that level, then he probably could contribute going forward. But there are too many 'ifs' right now for us to sit down and try to think of a plan."