Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on Tuesday, just a day after inking Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48 million extension, that the team will look to contend with the 15-time All-Star now under contract for the next three seasons.
Despite Bryant’s $23.5 million salary that holds over a third of the team’s $62.9 salary cap for the 2013-14 season, Kupchak believes the organization can put together a roster that can be a title contender with the 18-year veteran as one of the main components.
I think we do,” Kupchak said on a conference call with a small group of reporters. “I think we do. The challenges are there. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t make it any easier for anybody. It’s restrictive and challenging, but yes, I do believe we can.”
As far as taking a pay cut with next offseason in mind with potential free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, Kupchak believes that Bryant agreed to the deal in regards to those circumstances.
Obviously, he took a pay cut,” Kupchak said of Bryant, who will be paid $30.5 million this season and was eligible to be offered up to $32 million next season under the terms of the new CBA. “A substantial pay cut. A lot of people look at it and say, ‘Well, that’s not a huge financial pay cut,’ but it was a negotiation that we felt like was pretty quickly accomplished and fair on both sides. We’re comfortable.”
With the signing of Bryant, he also thinks that the Lakers took care of both of their objectives which were to retain the organization’s all-time leading scorer and keep financial flexibility for next offseason.
“We could compensate Kobe in the manner that we felt he deserved and at the same time be able to have that flexibility,” Kupchak said. “Substantial flexibility. We don’t have a minimum amount of flexibility. We have a lot of flexibility. Then you have to weigh it against, ‘OK, what do you think is going to happen this summer?’
“So, everybody forgets that Kobe would be a free agent this summer, too. 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 the next summer based on our flexibility.”
Lakers’ management is taking a chance on Bryant, who is attempting to come back from an injury that many players outside of Dominique Wilkins have failed to return to playing at the high level that they were performing at prior to the injury.
But with that said, Kupchak believes that he and the organization have seen enough from Bryant’s workouts and practice sessions to reward their star player that has lead them to 16 playoff appearances and five NBA titles in the past 17 years.
“You guys don’t have the sense that we do because I’m in the building every day watching,” Kupchak said. “He has not played in an NBA game. We don’t have that sense. We have [anecdotal evidence of] historically what players have done with this injury. We’ve consulted with the physicians, the doctors in terms of reinjury and stuff like that. The bottom line is that everybody expects him to get back on the court and to have a complete recovery. I don’t think anybody does not expect that.
“The gray area, obviously, is at 35 years old, how is his game going to change? We think it is going to change a little bit. He’s acknowledged that it will. But I don’t think that there’s any doubt that he’ll play in this league at a high level. I don’t know if that means points or exactly what it means. That was our comfort level.”
In some aspects it’s a leap of faith for the Lakers’ organization as neither they or Bryant at this point in time know what type of player he will be once he returns to the court. It could go one of two ways for Bryant: he goes out there and looks like a player that will never return to the high level of play prior to the injury, or the same player who defied Father Time last season by averaging 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game on .463 percent shooting from the field.
With this contract extension for Bryant, it looks like the Lakers have their hopes set on the latter occurring.
Photo Credit: Noah Graham/Getty Images