Kobe Bean Bryant. The name itself is a lightning rod for controversy, and his recent contract extension will do nothing to bridge the gap between the two polar opinions of him.
Because, let’s face it, you’re either a fan of Kobe or a hater.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 25, 2013
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 25, 2013
His reported two-year, $48.5 million contract extension will continue his reign as the highest paid player in the NBA, though it will be discounted from the max offer he is allowed under the current CBA ($32 million). For some context, here are the next highest paid players in the league this year, as per Basketball-Reference: Dirk Nowitzki, $22.7 million; Amar’e Stoudemire, $21.7 million; Joe Johnson, $21.4 million; Carmelo Anthony, $21.4 million. The rest of the top 10 is rounded out by Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, LeBron, Bosh and Wade.
And looking at those names, it makes sense for Kobe to be there. Those have been, and are, Kobe’s peers. Last season, Kobe’s jersey was the #3 seller both internationally and in the US, and this contract gives him the respect that his brand deserves.
Okay, so at this point expectations about his performance are at an all-time low. Slam may still believe in him, but #NBARANK conducted by ESPN had Bryant as the 25th best player in the league. Many analysts are criticizing how the Lakers are tying up so much cap space with an old (Kobe is 35) player coming off a pretty devastating injury (torn Achilles).
And admit it. You are fascinated by what he will be when he comes back. Will he be visibly slowed? Is it possible to adjust from his ball-dominating ways? Can Kobe Bryant eternally defy the aging process and throw up another 28ppg season based on impeccable footwork and single-minded mid-range assassination?
Yes, the league is about competing for the championship. The Lakers and Kobe know that more than almost anyone, with the Lakers owning 16 titles and Kobe steering the team to 5 of them. And this contract definitely eats into the cap space, which would hypothetically allow the Lakers to sign an additional marquee free agent to pair with Kobe and bring the team back into contention.
But as the Mavericks have shown over the past two years, trying to get Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, cap space is not a guarantee of acquiring these foundational players. The Lakers will still have the cap space to re-sign Pau Gasol (with some concessions on his side) and pursue someone on the level of Luol Deng, Danny Granger or Rudy Gay.
A team centered around Kobe, Pau and one of those wings would certainly be in the playoff picture (this current team is a surprising 7-7 to start the season) while playing D’Antoni offense and barnstorming the league as a part of the “Kobe Farewell Tour.” And isn’t that better than being the Milwaukee Bucks?
Assuming he plays both of these years and then retires, Kobe will have the all-time record for the longest tenure with any one team and only being with one team for a whole career, reaching 20 years with the Lakers franchise. John Stockton played 19 years, all for the Utah Jazz.
With all of the legends, we associate certain jerseys. Iverson will always be a 76er in my heart, Billups looks so right back in Detroit, Steve Nash is forever a Sun. This contract ensures that the Lakers will neither contend for a championship nor bottom out as Kobe chases Kareem’s all-time scoring totals, but most importantly it makes sure Kobe is a Laker for life.
And that, to me, makes sense.
Top Photo Credit: Handout/Getty Images