It’s a phrase that was first seen as a Kobe Bryant hashtag on Twitter and since then, it’s spread like wildfire. It describes the kind of hero ball and killer instinct synonymous with the Black Mamba’s brand of basketball. It’s always been seen as an inspiring, badass kind of concept. But when it comes to contract extensions and cap space, the Los Angeles Lakers are about to learn that the Mamba mentality isn’t always a good thing when the goal is winning titles.
Last Monday, Kobe signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension. This not only ensures that he’ll spend his entire career with the Lakers, but that he’ll also be the highest-paid player in the NBA over the next two seasons. Since the extension was signed, reactions to the deal have been divided into two camps: LA fans praising the deal for keeping Kobe in the purple and gold, and everyone else that realizes this deal severely hinders the Lakers’ chances of being a title contender before No. 24 retires.
Kobe’s contract extension shows the same kind of killer mentality that the Black Mamba does on the basketball court except this time, he’s murdering the Lakers’ cap space for the next two seasons. The easiest thing to criticize about this deal is that if Kobe were truly serious about catching Michael Jordan and winning that sixth ring, he would’ve signed the veteran minimum so the Lakers could afford big name players to help him get it done. Instead, this happened:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 25, 2013
Playing second fiddle is not how Kobe Bryant operates. Whether the rumors have been about freeing up space for Carmelo Anthony/LeBron James in 2014 or Kevin Love in 2015, can you really picture a healthy Kobe Bryant sharing the spotlight again, especially after how disastrous last year was with Dwight Howard? Do you really think Kobe would hand his team over to a younger player who would become the face of the franchise while he’s still around? Because I don’t. And that’s why his contract, which will consume about one-third of LA’s cap space in 2014 even if they waive Steve Nash, happened.
Now the Lakers will have to settle for the likes of Luol Deng or restricted free agents like Eric Bledsoe, Gordon Hayward or Greg Monroe in 2014. However, the Lakers can only afford to offer players a max deal if they use the stretch provision on Nash and renounce their rights Pau Gasol. LA probably wants to resign Gasol after his deal expires, but will Gasol want to stick around at a discount price when a bunch of teams with more promising futures will be waving money in his face?
That being said, I actually don’t think Kobe’s being selfish by agreeing to this gaudy contract extension; if anything, he’s in denial. In his mind, the Lakers are good enough to beat anybody with a healthy Kobe Bryant. It’s that same belief in himself and competitive fire we’ve always seen to the ultimate degree (and to the point of delusion, if you ask any rational NBA fan). Most people are making the mistake of thinking that Kobe’s Mamba mentality says “get yours and get paid,” but that’s not the reality. Instead, this new contract extension reaffirms everything we already know about Kobe Bryant: he still believes he’s the best, that he deserves to be paid like the best and cap space be damned, because, you know, he’s the best.
The fact that that’s not the reality anymore doesn’t seem to daunt him in the slightest. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe Bryant is a top-ten player of all time and one of the greatest if not THE greatest player in Los Angeles Lakers franchise history. The Lakers are the ones who offered him that kind of money and he absolutely deserves to be a Laker for life. But the NBA belongs to LeBron James and Kevin Durant now. And the reality is that in the loaded Western Conference, a 35-year old post-Achilles-injury-Kobe, Pau Gasol and a bunch of scrubs (Smush Parker, anyone?) aren’t enough to contend for a title.
Can this Lakers team make the playoffs with a healthy Black Mamba? It’s a possibility, although it’s definitely not a certainty. Kobe is still weeks away from returning and we don’t even know how he’ll look once he returns. Just ask Dominique Wilkins, Chauncey Billups or Elton Brand how that dreaded Achilles injury impacted their careers. If anyone can find a way to adapt and come back strong I believe it’d be Kobe Bryant, but there’s only so much “mind over matter” optimism I can buy into without wondering when age takes over.
Extending a player through his age-37 season before he returns from a ruptured Achilles is … interesting.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) November 25, 2013
When it comes down to it, Kobe deserves to retire with the Lakers and he deserves the likely fanfare that will come from his farewell-tour-of-a-final season. He’s helped bring five championships to Los Angeles, is the Lakers’ leading all-time scorer and will go down as one of the all-time greats. With pretty much everyone and their mother off the books soon, the Lakers still have room to sign one max-level player next summer if they get rid of Nash and don’t resign Gasol.
The deal makes Kobe happy and there’s something to be said of loyalty. The Lakers have pick obligations for the next three years, so cap space was essential to putting together a contender now. But once his contract is off the books, LA will have serious cap space to revamp their title efforts and that happens the same year that Kevin Durant will be a free agent. In the end, Kobe Bryant’s contract extension shows us what the Mamba mentality really means. It doesn’t mean being the best, but it also doesn’t mean being selfish. No, the Mamba mentality means being recognized as a winner. Even if you’re not actually winning anymore.
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