Is this contract just another step in that direction?
Kobe's new contract for 48.5 million over two years is in fact a great sign from the franchise. It shows clout, forward thinking, and shows that maybe these Buss children can handle being owners in this league. To figure that out, let's try to dissect this a little bit.
At 24 million dollars Kobe Bryant will be the most highly paid player in the league. That's more than LeBron, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony... All of them. All of these younger stars that have time left on their careers to earn rings, Kobe will earn more than them. Most fans see this as vanity on Kobe's part. Selfishness. If Kobe were really serious about winning, he wouldn't have asked for or even taken that much money. All fair points.
But Kobe Bryant isn't any other athlete. He's not Tim Duncan. He's not Kevin Garnett. He's one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. Kobe makes the top ten players of all time by almost anyone's standards. Those two will go down as some of the greatest Forwards of all time, Kobe will go down as one of the greatest players of all time. He deserves greater compensation than them based on what he has provided and what he can provide for the team moving forward.
The obvious argument comes quickly- "well he didn't need to get That much more. He could have taken much less and allowed the Lakers to more pieces so that he could win a Championship now." Let's look at that.
Say Kobe Bryant took 15 million dollars instead of 24 million. Say the Lakers then stretch Nash's contract out to three million and you're looking at a total of 19 million dollars on contract (including Sacre). If the Salary Cap is set at 58 million dollars, then we have almost 40 million dollars to spend. That's a lot of money to give away. Who is out there that's worth that kind of cash and would make a great team? LeBron and Carmelo are the only names that stick out of the bunch. Would LeBron come to LA? We don't have his bird rights, so we can only offer him so much money. We aren't established around him, we'd have to build again. From his end, he'd have to leave a successful situation to rebuild at the age of 30 when he's just finally rebuilt his image. I don't think he's coming. Carmelo might come though, right? He's in a truly awful organization, turning 30, with little hope of being competitive in the near future. Carmelo is good friends with Kobe Bryant, there's a good chance that their friendship and mutual respect would lead to production on the court. Let's say we get him.
Now we're looking at about 40 million dollars in contracts with Carmelo, Kobe, Sacre, and Nash's contract. That leaves a full 18 million to use for depth, right? So who else is out there? Luol Deng, Danny Granger, maybe Zach Randolph. Those are some good names, right? How much would they cost? Probably at least 12 million dollars for the wing players, Randolph would likely be more. Throw in another good player for the rest of that cash, let's say the Lakers use it on Hill so that they can keep him around.
Now our roster stands at Kobe, Carmelo, Deng, Hill, and Sacre. All on long term contracts and all we have left to spend is the minimum and the Mid-Level Exception. Is that enough to win a Championship? Is that enough to topple the Heat? Or the Spurs? How much better is that team than the team we have right now?
Keep in mind now that Deng, Kobe, Hill, and Carmelo all take up the full Cap Space and are on long term contracts. They're not going anywhere, they have little value in trades, and they aren't enough to win a Championship. Who does this sound like? That's right. It sounds like the Nuggets, the Pistons, the Hawks, the Bucks, the Fill-In-The-Blank team that gets mired in mediocrity by handing out large contracts to players that don't deserve it.
The Lakers instead bet on Kobe Bryant understanding that there's little hope of assembling a Championship caliber team on the fly with this new Collective Bargaining Agreement. They showed an understand of the market. They understood that they weren't going to force the team to sign mediocre talent. They weren't going to allow themselves to get stuck with long contracts for just about a step above the amount of production they're getting now at half the cost and half the liability.
Instead you give Kobe Bryant his money. You allow him to continue to hold the reins on the franchise with the understanding that the next person to hold those reins isn't available yet. There's not a better option out there. Mitch still has room to sign a max contract if he finds one that he thinks is worth it, just in case someone like LeBron changes his mind. But the likely end will be the Lakers re-signing many of the pieces they have left and maybe adding one on a short contract in order to keep the money available for a star that is worthy of picking up the franchise after Kobe. The Lakers will be careful not to be the team that rushes to add talent unless that talent is worth adding.
The final question remains- "Why does it have to be so much money though? Couldn't they have done the same thing, but left some money available for more pieces?" The truth is yes they could have, but this is where the true genius of the move kicks in.
What is the biggest deterrent to franchise players leaving the team they're with now? The money. Dwight Howard is an aberration in that he felt so strongly about leaving he gave up 30 million dollars to do it. There won't be many players willing to give up that much money unless they're desperate to leave the situation they're in now. Most players will take the 118 million dollar contract to stay in a city that's not going to work hard enough to win a Championship. That team will simply cash checks on the max-contract player until that player retires or is no longer worth the money. Most people predicted this would be the end of "Big" player movement. Very few would give up that much money even if the situation isn't ideal. Under the previous iterations of the CBA they would simply outspend other teams while finding diamonds when they could. They'd just spend more money than other teams were willing to spend in order to field the best teams. The new CBA was supposed to ruin that method. How could you possibly spend more money with the way the system taxes you now for spending?
The Lakers have flown in the face of that and once again found the way to differentiate themselves from every single other franchise in the league. The entire point of this contract wasn't to help Kobe. It wasn't to help the team win a Championship in 2014. It was to show the players around the league: Look come to LA. Give us greatness and we'll take care of you. If you give the Lakers Championships, if you give the fans something to cheer for, you'll get what's coming to you. We're loyal to our stars. We're loyal to those people that bring success to the franchise.
Great players across the league now will look at that 30 million they have to give away to get here and realize that if they just continue to be great, they'll get that and more when the time comes. The Lakers have shown that they're about the players and about winning in ways that no other team in the NBA is. Even a decrepit Kobe Bryant coming off of one of the most debilitating injuries for a professional athlete will get paid handsomely for his services in Los Angeles. Do you think any player would get that in Minnesota? Do you think any player would get that in Phoenix? Or Sacramento? Or New Orleans? Or Boston? No. This is the Lakers where our great players are treated like great players.
The tough pill for Laker fans to swallow is that yes, this means the Lakers understand there's little chance of winning a title with the way things are now. Unless Mitch can pull another rabbit out of his hat, the Lakers will spend the next two years trying to be underdogs in the playoffs. They'll assemble teams with great chemistry that are exciting and they'll try to find diamonds in the rough that they might want to keep. They won't be the favorites, even with Kobe Bryant.
But this is more long sighted than that. This is about the Lakers moving forward. Yes we take care of Kobe Bryant, but it's so that Kobe can say things like this:
* It's about loyalty to the players and showing the league that the Lakers are again the franchise that will support you the right way, if you support us."It makes me want to run through a wall for them," he said Tuesday. "Kind of just adds more fuel to the fire. Prove to everybody that [the Lakers] are right and everybody else is wrong."
Laker fans I know it's easy to look at this deal and say that the Lakers overpaid. They absolutely did. Kobe could have taken less money and it could have meant a few better players on the team. Definitely. But they did this with a purpose. It wasn't just a mistake. It wasn't just the Buss family not thinking this through. They're planting seeds right now throughout the NBA, showing players that we're again the gold standard in sports. I know not being the favorite for titles now hurts, especially with Kobe on the verge of retirement, but this is bigger than that. Think big Laker fans.