The Lakers unexpectedly signed Kobe Bryant to a 2 year, 48.5 million dollar contract on Monday that will take effect after this season, when his current contract expires; he is set to earn 30.4 million this season, by far the highest salary in the NBA and it’s not even close. Here’s your top 10 for this season:
1. Kobe Bryant, LAL $30,453,805.00
2. Dirk Nowitzki, DAL $22,721,381.00
3. Amare Stoudemire, NYK $21,679,893.00
4. Joe Johnson, BRK $21,466,718.00
5. Carmelo Anthony, NYK $21,388,953.00
6. Dwight Howard, HOU $20,513,178.00
7. Pau Gasol, LAL $19,285,850.00
8. Chris Bosh, MIA $19,067,500.00
9. LeBron James, MIA $19,067,500.00
10. Dwyane Wade, MIA $18,673,000.00
His new contract will have him earning 23.5 million for the first season and 25 million for the second season, ensuring that he remains atop the NBA’s salary leader board for the next two seasons. Obviously, from a business standpoint, this is a major steal for the Lakers, as Bryant brings in ridiculous amounts of cash with merchandise and PR every year. What’s really surprising is, according to Bryant, the Lakers didn’t even negotiate; they simply offered him this contract and Bryant quickly accepted. This isn’t normally how contract negotiations are done in the NBA, especially not with an aging star that a team wants to keep, but still needs to focus on the future. Of course, nobody in their right minds expected the Lakers to really play hardball with Bryant, who is quite possibly the greatest player to ever put on a Lakers uniform, but to simply hand Bryant another max contract isn’t good for the Lakers in a basketball sense, especially when the Lakers could have realistically saved up to 10 million in cap space if they would have simply negotiated; Bryant is no fool and he is aware of the Lakers cap situation, but at the same time, I won’t fault him for taking the deal that was on the table, considering that he is worth substantially more than what can possibly be offered under the limitations of the CBA.
With what Bryant is worth in revenue (his net-worth is estimated at a whopping 220 million dollars), this contract really speaks to what the cap situation is in the NBA, where there is a limited amount to what you can give to a star player, despite said player being worth more to their teams, both on the playing field and financially, than a top player in baseball or football, for example. If this was a true open market, Bryant would be worth so much more than 25 million a year. However, this isn’t an open market; there’s a cap limit to take into account, and it seems like that’s something the Lakers didn’t really think about.
I’m not at all against the contract; keeping Bryant in a Laker uniform for all 20 of his years in the NBA not only is impressive with the NBA’s current culture and how the CBA has set restrictions against long and massive contracts, but it also is a service to both the fans and Bryant himself, after all, it is very rare to see a star player stay with one team for his whole career. The uproar in L.A. would have been astronomical if the Lakers had let Bryant leave this summer. It makes a lot of sense if we simplify it all: A max contract player is supposed to make a lot of money for his franchise, and nobody does that better than Bryant, who, on top of consistently being Top-3 in jersey sales every year, is quite possibly the most popular player in the world, playing in the second biggest market the NBA has to offer. It’s a great signing for the Lakers from a business point of view.
The problems arise when you take into account the massive cap hit Bryant will have on the Lakers this off-season. This is a free agent class that could include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki and more; it’s safe to say this class is star-studded.
The Lakers currently have Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, potentially Nick Young (player option) and Elias Harris (team option) on the roster for next year. If the Lakers waive Nash via the Stretch Provision, the Lakers could have as much as 28 million to spend on the market; or one max contract and another worth about 6 million, while having to make up the rest of the roster with cheap, young players and make due with the various exceptions available to the team such as the mini mid level exception. Committing 38% of your salary cap to an aging star player isn’t a very good strategy, not when the West is 13 teams deep, with every team except the Spurs having multiple years to realistically contend for a championship.
Worst of all, the Lakers gave this deal to a 35-year-old player with 17 years of NBA experience and 54,031 minutes played (not counting International competitions) which is one of the highest minute totals for a 35-year-old in NBA history, who also happens to be coming off of a torn Achilles, which has been historically lethal to an NBA player’s career, and who has yet to play a single minute during the 2013-2014 NBA season. You can see how this deal could very easily backfire on the Lakers, as Bryant could easily come back and be a shell of his former self. And because the 2014 Free Agency has a chance to be extremely talent filled, the Lakers may have just shot themselves in the foot.
We can take comfort in the fact that Bryant will not ever put on another team’s uniform, but now, unless Mitch Kupchak pulls some magic out of his hat, the Lakers will have a tougher time rebuilding and will likely have to wait longer to be able to properly rebuild and put forth the best possible product on the court.