Sports Out West

Lakers: Kobe Bryant’s two-year, $48 million extension was the right choice

Photo Credit: Lakers.com

it was revealed on early Monday morning that Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers had reached an agreement on a two-year extension worth $48.5 million, according to ESPN.com.

Bryant will receive $23.5 million in the first year and $25 million in the second year of the deal.

The news of the deal caught most by surprise as Bryant has yet to play a game this season as he is still rehabbing his surgically-repaired left Achilles tendon. Jim Buss, who is a part owner and the executive vice president of basketball operations, discussed on several occasion the importance of getting an extension done with the 15-time All-Star.

The most recent came in late October, where Buss had spoken publicly that the team’s top priority was to sign Bryant to a contract that would make him a Laker for the remainder of his NBA career.

” I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent. That’s not going to happen,” Buss said. “Kobe is a top priority for us. He’s a Laker legend and always will be. I don’t think we’re done winning championships with him yet.

Well on Monday the Lakers followed through on that plan by signing Bryant for the next two years following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season.

The initial reaction to Bryant agreeing to the two-year extension was a bag full of mixed emotions as fans and media members alike were stunned by timing of the deal as the 18-year veteran has yet to take the court this season, and by dollar amount of the contract.

What took most people back was the fact that Bryant agreed to make $23.5 million next season, knowing that next offseason will likely feature top free agents such as Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

Many were expecting him to take a significant pay cut in the range of $10-15 million a year so that Lakers could pursue two top free agents and sign them to max contract deals. But with Bryant agreeing to a $23.5 million salary for the next season, it only allows for Los Angeles to ink one max contract player.

But before delving  any further in the analysis of the contract, the common consensus among the media and fans Monday was that Bryant did not take a pay cut as he remained the highest-paid player in the league for the next two seasons and therefore it has built the perception that he does not value winning his sixth NBA title above anything else.

That is not so.

In order for one to get a better perspective of the situation, they must take the take Bryant’s point of view.

The Lakers were the ones who approached him a couple of weeks ago about possibly getting a extension done before he made his return to the court. Bryant did not initiate the contract talks as it was started by the Lakers’ management, who had made it known that it was a top priority to ink the player who has helped lead the franchise to 16 appearances in the last 17 years. This also includes winning of five of the seven trips to the NBA Finals.

Bryant has been through it all with the Lakers’ organization as he endured the difficult years that followed after the team traded Shaquille O’Neal just a few months removed from the 2004 NBA Finals lost to the Detroit Pistons. Although Los Angeles did not make the playoffs that very next season, which was Bryant’s lone year that he did make the playoffs, he willed the Lakers to playoff appearances the following three seasons until the franchise finally brought in another superstar in Pau Gasol during the 2007-08 season via a trade.

Once Bryant was paired with another superstar he was able to take the franchise back to the promise land by  leading them to win another two NBA titles.

He has shown his dedication to the Lakers and the game of basketball by playing through numerous injuries that most players would not dare to take the court and try to play basketball through.

Bryant has earned this contract and his worth to the team is much more than what the Lakers could ever pay him as he has helped bring fans to the game every night, as evident by the 370-game home sellout streak that was snapped earlier this month, and has been a major factor in maintaining the Lakers as one of the premier franchises in all of sports.

So with him signing a $48.5 million contract for the next two seasons, it should not come with backlash as he has done so much for the Lakers, and the franchise showed their appreciation by offering this deal.

“This is a very happy day for Lakers fans and for the Lakers organization,” general manager Mitch Kupchak said in the release. “We’ve said all along that our priority and hope was to have Kobe finish his career as a Laker, and this should ensure that that happens.

“To play 20 years in the NBA, and to do so with the same team, is unprecedented, and quite an accomplishment. Most importantly, however, it assures us that one of the best players in the world will remain a Laker, bringing us excellent play and excitement for years to come.”

With all the negative feedback from the signing, many people are forgetting that Bryant is indeed taking a pay cut as he his salary next season will be about $6 million less than this year’s salary of $30.4 million. He signed this contract extension with next offseason in mind, and would not have done so if he did not believe the Lakers had any shot of signing another max contract player in the Summer of 2014.

Bryant over the years has made calculated moves and this one isn’t any different as he know it will be difficult to sign two max contract free agents such as James and Anthony. More than anything, this contract extension gives insight into what Bryant feels the organization can do after this season.

It is going to be a difficult task to get James to leave the Miami Heat after he has lead the franchise to three consecutive NBA Finals and winning the last two trips with a possible fourth Finals appearance pending this season. It would be too risky of a move by him to leave the Heat after what he went through with his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James is too loyal to the Heat organization where he was finally able to win his first NBA championship. Miami is his new home away from Akron, Ohio where he spent the first 26 years of his life growing up and playing basketball professionally. James is all about family and loyalty, and for him to leave the Heat it would go against all that he believes in.

The Lakers seem to have a better chance at signing Anthony who appears to be wits end with the New York Knicks, who this season currently hold one of the league’s worst records. Add that to the their lack of financial flexibility moving forward into next season and beyond with contracts like Amar’e Stoudemire’s $100 million contract that he signed three offseasons ago. In other words the the Knicks’ future looks bleak at best.

What also increases Los Angeles chances is the tight bond that both Anthony and Bryant have built over the years. That could go a long way in persuading Anthony in coming over to Los Angeles, where his wife La La has her career in acting in Hollywood. It may ultimately make Anthony the most likely top free agent to be a Laker next season.

Along with that, there will also be other big name free agents such as Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Dirk Nowitzki, Luol Deng, and Greg Monroe.

But with that said, all of this talk of either James, Anthony or any other big name free agent coming to Los Angeles next offseason may not happen at all. There is no guarantee that either any player will leave their current teams and sign with the Lakers. So what Los Angeles did on Monday was ensure the only thing that they could make a guarantee and that was re-signing Bryant.

This move at least assures that the Lakers will remain relevant with Bryant on their roster. He is going to continue to help sellout games and keep his team on the radar despite what moves they do or don’t make next summer. If all else fails, Bryant will have to carry the team on his back just as he has before, so why doubt that he can do it again?

And Besides Bryant was approached by the Lakers to sign a extension during the season. As a player, it’s their goal is get as much as they can because their is no guarantee that they will remain healthy for another deal. So what Bryant ultimately did was a smart move on his behalf as he  took a pay cut, remained the highest player in the league, and left enough salary cap space for the Lakers to sign another max contract player.

This move may be looked by many as one that hinders Los Angeles’ plans for next offseason, but in all actuality it does not and Bryant would not have agreed to the contract if didn’t know what he is getting into. He knows what lies ahead for the Lakers and what they will be capable of doing next summer.

So the ball is now in Los Angeles’ court as they now will face questions about the futures of both Gasol and Steve Nash, who is trying to return from nerve root irritation in his back. The Lakers have decisions to make, and on Monday they made one that was a one step in the right direction.

 Photo Credit: Lakers.com

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Bob Garcia IV

Bob Garcia is a sports journalist from Southern California. He was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarcia90.

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