Kobe’s $48.5 million extension seems odd but makes sense

kobe-bryant-thumbs-up

Today we were greeted with a press release from the Lakers. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Except this wasn’t just any old press release: it was announcing that the team had inked their longtime superstar to a two-year contract extension worth $48.5 million.

Whoa! Where did that come from? The Lakers are signing a 35-year-old guy – who’s coming off Achilles surgery and hasn’t even played in a game yet – to a two-year deal worth close to $50 million? Well, there goes their cap space and a shot at a “super team”!

The truth is that the chances of the Lakers signing LeBron James next summer were always ultra-slim. Of course, we as Laker fans daydreamed about the prospect of LeBron coming to L.A. to team up with Carmelo Anthony and Kobe – who would be playing for a much lower salary in order to make the numbers work – though the chances of any such squad ever coming together seemed unlikely.

LeBron was the biggest chip here – and it’s worth noting that he technically still could leave Miami and sign with the Lakers next summer as L.A. would still be able to create enough cap space to offer him a max deal – and it seems as if “The King” will likely stay in Miami to avoid yet another public backlash. James has just regained his popularity after “The Decision” and has won back-to-back championships – it would be silly for him to leave South Beach at this point.

The same goes for Carmelo: does he really want to leave New York – one of the biggest markets in the world – and head to L.A. to give himself a chance to compete for a championship? Maybe, but it’s not that long ago that he literally forced the Denver Nuggets to trade him to the Big Apple. Does he really want out already?

If LeBron and Melo are truly off the cards next summer, the Lakers have a heap of cap space with no real stars to spend it on. Therefore, that $23.5 million that Kobe’s set to make in 2014-15 really isn’t going to be a hindrance to the team.

And how about the next season when the final year of Kobe’s deal will earn him $25 million? Barring any unforeseen large contracts being signed, the Lakers would still be able to chase Kevin Love in the summer of 2015.

You see, this isn’t a five-year deal. The Lakers aren’t even tied down to this contract for four years: it’s for two seasons. That’s it. And the max contract players who will be available to sign over the next two summers could really be in short supply, meaning the Lakers would either let the $48.5 million now allocated to Kobe just sit there or ink guys like Kwame Brown to $10 million contracts.

Or, the alternative is giving it to the guy who has dedicated more than half of his life to your franchise and has almost singlehandedly carried the organization into the 21st century.

Sure, the Lakers have signed away $23.5 million of cap room in 2014 and $25 million in 2015, but they still have enough room to sign a max free agent one of those summers. And then in 2016, they get to do it all again when Kobe’s deal expires and a certain Kevin Durant is set to hit the market.

In 2016, Kobe will have been in the league for 20 seasons, yet he’ll still only be 38-years-old when the season tips off – maybe that year we’ll see the extreme pay cut?

The bottom line here is that the Lakers aren’t in for five-to-ten years of mediocrity as some are implying. Firstly, the contract extension is a fairly short one, and secondly, this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about.

Sure, we haven’t seen what a post-Achilles surgery Black Mamba looks like when playing in an actual NBA game (though he looked pretty damn good at practice) but it’d be stupid to write him off and/or doubt the Lakers’ decision to ink him to an extension before returning to game action (the Lakers have access to some of the best doctors in the world, who I’m sure have advised the team that Kobe is good to go.)

If Kobe is anywhere near as good as he was last season then he’ll absolutely warrant the $48.5 million that was signed over to him today. Who else are you going to sign with that cap space who can have the same impact on the game as Bryant?

LeBron (probably) isn’t walking through that door and neither is Durant (yet). The likes of Chris Paul and Paul George are locked up, while future superstars like Kyrie Irving and Damien Lillard will be stuck with their respective teams for half a decade thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Sure, if Kobe’s never the same again and goes down the Steve Nash route then this move could seem like a bad one, but calculated risks have to be taken now and again – just ask Dr. Jerry Buss.

Let’s say that LeBron and Carmelo both stay with their respective teams next summer. Then what? You have a bunch of cap space and nobody to spend it on. Sure, you could splash a little cash on Luol Deng or attempt to pry away a young talent such as Eric Bledsoe, Gordon Hayward or Greg Monroe, but having Kobe on the books for $23.5 million in 2014 doesn’t hurt any of those endeavors.

If the Lakers don’t see any players out there next summer who are worth major dough, they can simply sign a bunch of guys to one-year deals (ala this season) and go after a guy like Kevin Love in 2015.

Or, if the Lakers do end up signing Anthony to a four-year max deal, the worst thing that can happen is once again having a bunch of cap room in 2016, at which time they could surround Melo with fresh talent for the two remaining years of his contract.

If the Lakers had signed Kobe to this extension last season when he was playing some of the best basketball of his career, would so many people still be mad today? If the idea of LeBron and Melo signing with the Lakers in 2014 had never been raised, would there still be a large contingent of angry Laker fans hammering away at their keyboards right now?

The NBA is often viewed as a “business”, yet the Lakers proved today that there is still a sense of loyalty within their organization, even if this was ironically a business move within itself. For some of the NBA’s young stars, it may be assuring to see that the Lakers are still a team that is loyal to it’s legends, and that’s something that could pay off down the road when those stars become free agents.

From a fan’s perspective, Kobe taking a Tim Duncan-type deal would’ve been great. However, Kobe Bryant isn’t Tim Duncan.

Kobe is too important to the Lakers’ brand to let him walk or disrespect him by presenting him with a lowball offer. Why should this relationship end badly? We’re 18 years in to one of the greatest marriages the sports world has ever seen, it’d be a shame for it to end on a sour note when there really is no need to.

Marriages aren’t always easy, and sometimes they require compromise – this particular agreement requires the Lakers to give up some of their financial flexibility and, in turn, for Kobe to pass up on millions of guaranteed dollars.

In short, the Lakers still have enough room to bring in top talent and give it one last shot to win a title with Bryant. If it doesn’t work out, heaps of cap room is waiting for them just a couple of years down the line.

For better or for worse, a deal has been struck and a big part of the franchise’s future has been set for the next couple of years.

Above all else, just enjoy the last chapter of Kobe Bryant’s career – it’ll be interesting, to say the least…

Written by Ross Pickering

Ross Pickering is the founder of Lakerholicz.com. He's here to bring you daily updates on your Los Angeles Lakers, despite living 5,485 miles away from L.A. in England. You can follow him on Twitter: @RossPickering