When the news broke that superstar Kobe Bryant inked a two-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers worth $48.5 million, two types of people appeared through the social network platform: Those happy for Bryant finishing his career as a Laker and those who became obsessed with the Lakers’ financial flexibility that would be diminished by this large signing.
If there is one thing critics of the new deal need to do, it’s to settle down.
The decision to offer Bryant $23.5 million for the 2014-15 season and then $25 million during the 2015-16 season does leave questions concerning the Lakers’ salary cap room next summer, which was supposed to be the offseason that Los Angeles made their way back to championship contenders. As everyone has noticed by now, Bryant publicly sounded off on the Lakers’ ability to still lure another max-level superstar to Hollywood:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 27, 2013
The more of a nightmare this season turns out to be for the New York Knicks, the higher the Lakers’ chances become of convincing Carmelo Anthony the L.A. lifestyle will be the way to go (despite Anthony stating he wants to stay in the Big Apple). The problem that arises if a max-level superstar were to join Bryant in Los Angeles is that management would be stuck with a very limited amount of cap room to work with when adding complementary pieces for the roster. This concern is understandable, considering the most important players in championship runs tend to be the ones that can step up and relieve pressure off the superstars. Prime examples would be Jason Terry of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, Lamar Odom of the 2009 and 2010 Lakers and even Ray Allen of the current Miami Heat.
With all that being said, maybe Bryant believes that he, alongside of a Carmelo Anthony, crippled Steve Nash and potentially Pau Gasol, can compete for an NBA championship. Are we seriously counting out that possibility? That would be a mistake.
For a second, negate the fact that Bryant is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, and take into account what we all experienced the last time he was in uniform. Last season, Bryant proved that he can still carry a team at the age of 34, going on 35. With the All-Star team the Lakers threw together last year, the injury plague swarmed through Los Angeles stronger than ever, sidelining Steve Nash with a broken leg and keeping Pau Gasol out a majority of the year with a tear in his plantar fascia. Don’t forget, Dwight Howard admitted he wasn’t completely 100 percent until the end of the year due to his back pain and torn labrum in his shoulder. What did Bryant do? From Feb. 1 to the end of the 2012-13 regular season, Bryant led the team to a 23-11 record before tearing the Achilles. Without Bryant’s incredible display of will and determination by averaging 27.3 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, the Lakers would have missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
In fact, Bryant’s 27.3 points per game (third highest in 2012-13) easily became the highest scoring average of ANY player in their 17th NBA season throughout the league’s history. His 46.3 percent field goal efficiency was his highest since the 2008-09 season, the year he captured his fourth NBA title. Bryant was a man on a mission after making the playoff guarantee, and gave us great evidence as to why he was still the best offensive force in basketball with the most 40-point performances during the season.
Flash forward to where we are now, with Bryant just turning 35 and completing rehab after Achilles re-attachment. Everyone is quick to doubt that he will ever be the same, ever be able to put up impressive scoring numbers, and ever able to be the leader of a championship pack again. However, take a second to understand what this contract extension is essentially telling the fans, as well as Lakers management:
Bryant re-signing as the highest paid player in basketball for another two years could be his way of shouting that he himself is still capable of producing at an MVP level. I guess it’s just forgotten that this is the same player that told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that he would absolutely not stick around in the NBA just to be mediocre. Bryant is on record saying that he would rather RETIRE completely from the game of basketball before letting us (fans, analysts, critics) witness a regression in his game.
In February 2012, Bryant stated:
“You think I’d hang around and average 18 points, 19 points? Hell no.”
In totality, Bryant agreeing to a deal that was OFFERED, not requested, by him is simply Kobe looking at everyone in the face and blatantly pointing out that he is going to continue to be the most skilled player in the world until he hangs up the jersey. It shows that he’s confident in what he can do with a surgically repaired Achilles, as he’s intelligent enough to know he’s putting the Lakers in a bad spot IF he can’t come back as the Black Mamba.
If you are owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak, you have complete access to all of Bryant’s workouts, practices, etc. For them to willingly grant him the chance to stay the highest paid player across the league, it’s almost certain that they would have been impressed with the work Bryant is already putting on display. Now, regular season and playoff games are far different than team scrimmages or practice, but don’t ever question the judgement of a franchise that has supplied the city with seven NBA Finals trips in the last 13 years. Since 2000, the Lakers have reached the Finals 53.8 percent of the time. No other organization outside of the San Antonio Spurs would be able to back up questionable financial decisions. The Lakers typically find their way to succeed, so let them operate.
This is the same management group that brought the NBA’s best point guard, Chris Paul, to Laker land before having the deal revoked due to “basketball reasons.” This is the same group that knew when it was time to give up on Andrew Bynum and helped Dwight Howard find his way to Los Angeles. Nobody is ready to give up on what they may have in store for Summer 2014.