FILE: Kobe Bryant Signs Extension With LakersThe Lakers will have a lot of trouble putting together a championship-caliber roster the next two seasons with Kobe Bryant eating up almost $24 million of the payroll. But general manager Mitch Kupchak says it can be done.

With Bryant still a week or so away from returning to games, Kupchak took part in a conference call on Tuesday and discussed his star’s recovery. Naturally, the two-year, $48 million contract extension Bryant signed on Monday came up, with reporters wondering how in the world the Lakers would contend with so much money dedicated to a 35-year-old coming off a torn Achilles.

“I think we do” have the ability to compete for championships once Bryant returns, Kupchak told reporters. “The challenges are there. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t make it easier for anybody. It’s restrictive and challenging, but yes, I do believe we can.”

Bryant took a slight pay cut from $30.5 million this season to about $24 million, but it was nothing like the pay cuts Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan took last year to help ease their team’s payroll burdens. Kupchak said the extension gave Bryant what he deserved while granting the Lakers some financial flexibility.

That flexibility might not be enough to lure LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles, but Kupchak said the Lakers have already secured one of next summer’s most sought-after free agents: Bryant.

“Everybody forgets that Kobe would be a free agent this summer, too,” Kupchak said. “So we got who we feel is one of the top free agents available this summer and we still have the ability to pursue other free agents or other opportunities between now and the trade deadline or this summer or next summer based on our flexibility.”

That’s one way to look at it. Whatever helps put your mind at ease, Lakers.