Money is what makes the world go around. This is true in the world at large and also true in the National Basketball Association. The Los Angeles Lakers and other big market marquee teams tend to value players above their on the court production and take into account their effect off the court. Big names put fans in the seats and the NBA is a star driven league putting a premium on next level talent. Superstar players get paid, sometimes whether they produce or not, and the Los Angeles Lakers proved that yesterday when they gave Kobe Bryant a 2-year $48.5 million extension.
Kobe Bryant is well on his way back from suffering a devastating Achilles tendon injury which kept him out for all of last season. He will be out to show that he is back and better than ever but there is reason to think that last season’s pre injury Kobe is the best we will ever see out of the Mamba going forward. Players simply do not have the same type of production when they are coming back from such serious injuries. The average players underperform their projections in basically every single category. Percentages on two point baskets, free throws, free throws attempted, rebounds, steals, and blocks all show significant decreases in players who have suffered the same injury. There are however several players who have recently come back from Achilles injuries to be still very productive. Chauncey Billups has managed to be a very good player still, hamstring issues notwithstanding, after he had essentially the same injury that Kobe is coming back from.
Getting paid was obviously a big deal for Bryant. He gets to remain the highest paid player in the league but with the punitive cap coming into effect he may have made it much harder for the Lakers to give him the pieces to make another championship run. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers General Manager, has already voiced his concerns and somewhat distanced himself from the decision as he has made it well known that this was a Buss family decision and not up to him in any way. The Lakers executive vice president of player personnel said that Los Angeles, “made him (Bryant) the highest paid player in the NBA because we felt like it was the right thing to do. This wasn’t about what someone else would pay him of outbidding anyone for him.” That kind of loyalty is great but when it comes down to wins and the Lakers ability to bring in the next big star to take over after the Mamba, that contract is going to make things exceptionally difficult.
With that much money committed to Bryant, while it will be difficult, there are still some scenarios where the Lakers can sign a superstar level talent to play by his side. One possibility, unlikely as it may be though, is that the Lakers will go essentially all in to try to sign Lebron James. This whole idea hinges on the idea that Lebron will opt out of his contract with the Heat and entertain the idea of playing alongside an aging Kobe. The idea of a Kobe Bryant trade to the Miami Heat in 2013 is now long gone. Unfortunately, the most likely option for the Lakers is Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is currently shackled to a frankly horrible New York Knicks franchise and will certainly be opting out of his contract at the end of this season. While his availability is not in doubt, the idea of him teaming up with Kobe should be enough to make anyone cringe. Melo and Bryant are the quintessential ball in my hands stars and there just seems to be no way that these two could complement each other’s play styles in any way. An option which is kind of under the radar in this whole saga is that the Lakers could play out next season and after that try to lure Kevin Love away from the Minnesota Timberwolves once he can opt out of his deal with them. Love is showing that he can be a superstar even on a bad team and as he played his college ball at UCLA is essentially already a hometown favorite. Of all these possible saviors, Kevin Love stands out as the best long term option as he is young and definitely a player other superstars would be interested in teaming up with whereas Carmelo is certainly not and is also much older.
The contract which Kobe signed is going to make it extremely tough for him to obtain his sixth NBA title which would tie him with the great Michael Jordan. If he cannot come through in the next couple of years then this contract will be forever immortalized as the nail which sealed the coffin on his quest to acquire more NBA Championship rings than Air Jordan.