By Josh Dhani

Kobe Bryant is fighting hard to return from his torn Achilles injury, and as many reports state, the 34-year-old is definitely ahead of schedule.

Bryant will be turning 35 on August 23, and he's also facing the final year of his contract with the Lakers. It's unclear if this will be Bryant's last year in the NBA, but he has hinted towards retirement.

Nonetheless, Kobe's time is coming. It's hard to imagine seeing Bryant, who's entering his 17th NBA season, to be on any other team but the Lakers. Los Angeles' team executive Jeanie Buss agrees, and says it's important to keep the Black Mamba as a Laker for life.

"I want Kobe to take the time that he needs to get healthy," Buss said in a radio interview with ESPNLA 710. "I don't want to see him come back any sooner than when he's ready, and I know he'll know when that is. There's no reason for him to do anything that compromises his health.

"Kobe is part of the Laker family and he always will be. There's not many players who play 18-19 years with the same franchise, and it's important to us that he has a chance to play his entire career with the Lakers."

Bryant is scheduled to make $30.5 million this season on his final year of his contract, which is the highest in the NBA. Bryant averaged about 27 points, six assists and six rebounds per game last season, where he single-handedly carried the Lakers to a seventh seed spot in the Western Conference and into the playoffs.

He hopes to do the same this season, and he likely will have to carry Los Angeles again with a depleted team talent-wise. Bryant enters next season with key pieces lost such as Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark. Now Bryant will have to recreate chemistry with new players such as Nick Young and Chris Kaman.

However, no matter what happens next season, it doesn't look like Bryant is going to walk out like this by any means. The 2014 NBA Free Agency is a great chance for Bryant to go for a sixth ring, as he can land players like LeBron James and/or Carmelo Anthony on the purple-and-gold.

Even if Bryant doesn't ever capture that elusive sixth ring, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest. It's not everyday you see guys with nearly 32,000 career points, five rings, an abundance of All-Star appearances, an MVP award and more all with just one franchise.

This season will be a major one for Bryant regarding his injury and age. It may even decide how his career moves forward if he wants to continue his journey for a sixth ring in 2014. 


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