Kobe’s lucrative extension makes the Lakers’ future a bit tougher

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The Lakers announced on Monday morning that they have agreed to a two-year 48.5M extension with Laker legend Kobe Bryant. It is reported by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that Kobe will receive $23.5M in the first year, and $25M in the second year. This means that even at age 36 and 37 (and coming off an Achilles injury), Kobe Bryant will continue to be the highest paid player in the NBA.

There are two issues I have with this extension, the first is that it limits the Lakers’ cap space and flexibility for the next two years. The 2014-2015 NBA salary cap is projected to be somewhere around $62M. According to salary cap guru Larry Coon, the Lakers will have about $22M in cap space in the offseason after Kobe’s extension (Nash, Sacre, and the 2014 draft pick will also be on the books).

However, they can gain an extra $6M in cap space if they use the stretch provision on Steve Nash. This provision would mean breaking Nash’s $9M into three years. So essentially it will change his one year, $9M contract into a 3 year, $9M contract (Note: Nash will become a free agent).

I assume that the Lakers will do this, especially because Nash is oft-injured and he doesn’t bring much to the table anymore.

If this assumption is correct, the Lakers would have about $28M in cap space. According to Larry Coon, that is enough to sign one max free agent, one mid-level free agent (around $5-7M annually), and a room exception player ($2.7M). And while that does allow the Lakers to add talent around Kobe,  it won’t be enough in my opinion. The Lakers will still be able to add a superstar like Carmelo Anthony, but because Carmelo’s contract would eat up most of the remaining cap space, the rest of the roster would likely be pretty underwhelming.

In a perfect scenario, Kobe would’ve taken a Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett-like extension. An extension like this would’ve paid Kobe about $12-15M annually and given the Lakers an additional eight to ten million in cap space (and it’s a fair contract). That extra cap space would’ve given the Lakers enough room to sign TWO max players or one max player and two mid-level players. A roster like this would’ve had a much better shot at getting Kobe his sixth ring.

The second issue I have with the extension is that Kobe hasn’t even played since his Achilles injury. While Kobe is my favorite player and I have faith he can return to his dominant form, common sense tells me that the Lakers should’ve at least seen how Bryant performed before offering him an extension. I know Kobe is a different from the rest, but an Achilles tear is a significant injury and it’s a real possibility that he’ll never be able to return to form. If Kobe returns, but proves to be a shell of his former self, the Lakers will not be title contenders until 2016 at the earliest.

All in all, I’m glad that Kobe will be a Laker for life, and I’m eager to see him back on the court. However, fielding a team around an aging superstar is tough, and without Kobe taking a bigger pay cut, it becomes even tougher. But the Lakers have proved time and time again that they can build a championship team, and as we all know, history repeats itself.

This was an article by Ryan Kelapire. You can follow him on Twitter here: @RyanKelapire

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