Kobe Bryant 'absolutely' believes Lakers will be playoff team this season

Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant believes that his team will "absolutely" make the playoffs this season in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.

The Lakers won just 21 games last year and missed the postseason for the second straight year -- the first time that's happened since 1976.

"We have talented players in their respective positions," Bryant said in a phone interview with Yahoo Sports Tuesday. "We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don't know.

"We are going to [training] camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does," he said. "We have to figure out what our strengths are, figure out what our weaknesses are. And every time we step on the court we are going to try to hide our weaknesses and step up to our strengths."

The Lakers expect to begin the fall at training camp in Hawaii with Bryant, who was a part-time player making $23.5 million last season until it ended for him in January with a shoulder injury.

His last three seasons have ended early because of injuries, but he wrapped up his physical rehabilitation in April and is determined to take charge again next season, when he will be 37 years old.

"The body is good. I feel good. ... My lower body is solid," he said. "There are no question marks on what I can do. My body and my legs feel extremely strong and healthy. That's the big difference."

A five-time champion, Bryant reiterated that this NBA season could be his last, but insisted he has not yet made a final decision.

"We haven't set anything in stone, and I've talked about it before," he said. "But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It's tough to decide. It's really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, 'Kobe you will know.'

"I'm making this very simple," he said. "Either I like playing the game and going through this process or I don't. I try to strip it down to the simplest form. Either I like playing some more or I don't. But I think that decision needs to be made after the season. It's hard to make a decision like that before the season."

After striking out with the biggest free agents on the market following the worst season in franchise history, the Lakers restocked their roster with a mix of veteran acquisitions and young talent led by No. 2 overall draft pick D'Angelo Russell and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert.

The Lakers added two other veteran NBA players -- Lou Williams and Brandon Bass -- to the fold during the offseason, and they're all eager to get a fresh start with the Lakers and looking forward to playing with Bryant.

Bryant said the feeling is mutual.

"They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years," he said in the interview. "I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve."

The Lakers also have Jordan Clarkson, the second-round pick who took over as the Lakers' starting point guard this season, and the return of second-year pro Julius Randle in a promising young core.

The question for the Lakers is whether Bryant can stay healthy or not.

"You knock on wood that (Bryant) is healthy for all of next year," Lakers coach Byron Scott said in April. "That would be huge for our young guys, because then you're learning from the best."