PHOENIX >> For every day that passes with his 36-year-old body aching seemingly everywhere, Kobe Bryant’s continual on-court absence fits a larger purpose that goes beyond improving his energy level.The Lakers are waiting for next season.Bryant sat out the Lakers’ 115-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday at U.S. Airways Center, his eighth absence in the past 15 games coinciding with the Lakers (12-29) owning the NBA’s fourth-worst record. Meanwhile, Bryant has one more year left on his contract worth $25 million and the Lakers will have enough cap space to sign a maximum-salary free agent. “That’s part of the process,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott before mentioning general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss. “They’re all on board with that as well. We knew this would be a tough year, but we also want some answers. The answer with Kobe is he obviously can still play at a very high level.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error The Lakers could have used Bryant against Phoenix. Despite Nick Young’s team-leading 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting keeping the Lakers in contention, the Suns closed out the final 2:41 with 11 unanswered points, The Lakers dropped their fifth consecutive game and fell in a regular-season sweep to the Suns (25-18) for the first time since the 2004-05 season after committing 23 turnovers, including six from Jordan Hill and four from Wesley Johnson and Young. The Lakers also provided no answer for Isaiah Thomas (24 points), Goran Dragic (24 points) and Eric Bledsoe (17). To lesser fanfare, the Lakers also missed Ronnie Price for the second consecutive game because of persisting right elbow soreness, while rookie reserve center Tarik Black left with five minutes remaining after spraining his right ankle. Black, who posted six points and three rebounds in 21 minutes, appeared to step on a teammate’s foot close to the basket. “It hurt bad when it happened, but I think I’ll be back soon,” said Black, whose x-rays turned out negative. “It’s just a matter of keeping the swelling down.”As for Bryant, the Lakers have not yet considered shutting him down entirely for the team’s remaining 40 games. Bryant will travel to Phoenix for a shooting session in today’s practice with hopes to play in Wednesday’s game in New Orleans. But Scott noted his strategy addresses “trying to preserve him as much as possible,” considering the Lakers are destined to miss the NBA playoffs for the second consecutive year and the seventh time in franchise history. “We want to get to that point next year where he can play at that high level again,” Scott said. “He’s going to go out and play the hardest he can possibly play. He’ll take the whole summer to recuperate and that’s not him, either. He wants to continue to work to get better.”Meanwhile, only Young, Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly also have guaranteed contracts that go beyond this season, leaving the Lakers with as many as 11 roster spaces to fill. Starting July 1, will the Lakers fill out those empty slots with potential marquee free agents, such as Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Dragic, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gay, Greg Monroe and Paul Millsap?“That’s a question that won’t be answered until next year,” Scott said. “Obviously it’s a big summer for us with the free agent market. We have a plan on what we want to do. But that’s three or four months away.”The Lakers’ ugly present explains why they are already thinking for the future.