Kobe Bryant's (search) journey through free agency ended Thursday where it began — with the Los Angeles Lakers (search).

Bryant chose the Lakers over the Clippers, remaining with the team he joined in 1996 at age 18 and later helped win three NBA championships.

"Kobe has informed us he's going to stay with the Lakers and sign a new contract," Lakers spokesman John Black said Thursday afternoon. The team planned a news conference for later in the day.

The decision came a day after the Lakers traded fellow superstar Shaquille O'Neal (search) to the Miami Heat. Now, it will be Bryant — along with incoming coach Rudy Tomjan more than $136.4 million over seven years.

One significant obstacle remains for Bryant before next season. He has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault and faces an Aug. 27 trial in Eagle, Colo. He claims he had consensual sex with an employee, now 20, at the Vail-area resort where she worked.

If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000.

Bryant, who turns 26 next month, has averaged 21.8 points in 561 regular-season games over eight seasons. He averaged 24.0 points this past season despite his legal problems and a career-high 30.0 points in the 2002-2003 campaign.

The Lakers had an advantage over the Clippers financially, able to offer a seven-year contract worth $30 million than the Clippers could pay him.

Bryant became an unrestricted free agent when, as expected, he opted out of his contract June 17 — the same day O'Neal demanded a trade and Phil Jackson was informed he wouldn't return as coach next season.

Bryant also spoke with representatives of the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks before narrowing the field to the two Los Angeles teams.