Kobe's Big Contract Extension Likely To Hinder Lakers' Free Agency Efforts
Lakers G Kobe Bryant yesterday signed a contract extension reportedly worth $48.5M over two years, meaning he will "remain the NBA's highest-paid player," according to Bill Oram of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. While a public relations "no-brainer, the deal ties up a large chunk of the salary cap space the Lakers planned to have in the next two summers." With the salary cap "projected to be upward" of $62.9M next season, and Bryant "eating up more than a third of that, the Lakers will have the space to sign one maximum player, as opposed to two" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 11/26). Lakers Exec VP/Player Personnel Jim Buss said, "This was a Buss family decision." He added, "We made him the highest-paid player in the NBA because we felt like it was the right thing to do. ... This was to continue his legacy (with the Lakers), our legacy of loyalty to our iconic players." Buss: "Loyalty is one of the values our dad instilled in us. It's how he ran the Lakers and how we aspire to continue to run the Lakers. It's what our fans and iconic players deserve" (ESPNLA.com, 11/26). Bryant said of the deal, "This was easy. This wasn't a negotiation. The Lakers made their offer with cap and building a great team in mind while still taking care of me as a player. I simply agreed to the offer." YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote there is "little chance a max player willing to change teams will be available to the Lakers this summer." The upcoming offseason could see the Lakers "signing less-than-superstar players, with next year turning into the Lakers' big play on the market" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/25).
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: In L.A., Ben Bolch writes one "gets the sense" that Bryant's contract extension is "a goodwill gesture, like a gold watch for his 20 years of service." The deal "erases any possibility of landing one of the top available players" in '15. The Lakers "find themselves stuck somewhere in the middle, a spot that is becoming painfully familiar for a .500 team with a muddled future" (L.A. TIMES, 11/26). Also in L.A., Bill Plaschke writes the extension was a "startling celebration of individuality by a decorated franchise and veteran leader who both should have known better." The Lakers have "proven they are about championships, yet they just handed out the sort of hefty contract to an aging and injured star that will likely prevent them from adding the free agents necessary to win another one with him" (L.A. TIMES, 11/26). But in California, T.J. Simers writes, "I don't buy the theory that they are rewarding Kobe for his service to the franchise. If so, it's bad business. The Lakers have paid Kobe handsomely for years, and it's all about now" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 11/26). In N.Y., Tim Bontemps writes under the header, "Kobe's Selfish Deal Limits Lakers In Free Agency." With Bryant and G Steve Nash "on the books for a combined" $33.2M next summer, the Lakers will go into free agency "with roughly" $20M to spend (N.Y. POST, 11/26). In San Diego, Matt Calkins writes, "Soon, the man no Lakers fan wanted to see retire will be the one who can't retire quickly enough." The Lakers' days of "parading outside of Staples Center will not resume until Bryant is gone." Calkins: "In locking up the Black Mamba, the organization will soon find itself snake bitten" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 11/26).
ON THE OTHER HAND...: ESPN L.A.'s Ramona Shelburne wrote the Lakers "looked around and realized they still had one bankable international superstar who has more than paid for every dollar they've ever paid him, and still will, on and off the court." Shelburne: "Why do you think the franchise is worth over $1 billion?" The Lakers "are the Lakers because of stars like Bryant." It is "part of their brand and it's absolutely what their fans expect." Shelburne: "Lose that, risk that even, and you're just another team" (ESPNLA.com, 11/25). NBA TV’s David Aldridge said, "For a team that is floundering right now, they needed to have somebody that could sell some tickets and give the fans out there some even grasping hope that they could be relevant in the next year or two. Because the likelihood of them hitting a home run in free agency -- LeBron James or whoever they were going to get -- was miniscule.” The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson said, “It’s shocking that we’re talking about one of the greatest competitors in the game's history as a PR move as opposed to a basketball move, but ... that to me is what this is, and it had to be done” (NBA.com, 11/25). ESPN L.A.'s Dave McMenamin wrote after the Lakers' brand "has taken a hit in recent seasons with uninspiring playoff exits and the departure of Dwight Howard, attaching themselves to Bryant is going all-in on their biggest star and their greatest box-office draw" (ESPNLA.com, 11/25). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “To the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s worth at least that. Kobe Bryant is the most beloved athlete in Southern California" ("PTI," ESPN, 11/25). SPORTS ON EARTH's Shaun Powell writes signing Bryant "may have been a bad and dumb business decision," but it was a "good basketball decision." There are "few players that you can throw a ton of money at and sleep well at night without buyer's remorse" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 11/26).
BUT WHY NOW? ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh wrote, "If you needed any more convincing that this was a public-relations move, the Lakers packaged the announcement on Twitter with a Hallmark-meets-Hollywood staged photograph." The Lakers wanted to "win over fans now and deal with the wins on the court later." But that is an "enormous risk that won't be felt now, and it could cripple the Lakers organization for years to come." If Bryant is "truly about winning the NBA title, the contract he just signed will make it very difficult" (ESPN.com, 11/25). In California, Jeff Miller writes there is "much handwringing over how complicated the Lakers' rebuilding has become." But with Bryant's extension, the Lakers will "remain relevant and entertaining, and most teams in sports can't count on either of those things" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 11/26).