Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in. Michael Corleone said that in Godfather three. Shaquille O’Neal compared Bryant once to Sonny Corleone, but the one getting pulled back in here are the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead of finally getting rid of a cap-crippling contract, they decided to give a player who will be 36 by the time next season begins a two-year extension that keeps him as the highest player in the NBA.
One season left on Bryant’s contract. He still hasn’t returned to the basketball courts since tearing his Achilles tendon late last season. What was the rush to give him a $48.5 million deal, paying him $23.5 for the 2014-2015 season and $25 million for the next? Yes, the fan base loves him and loyalty is also something we rarely see in the NBA today; yes, it’s commendable. But the numbers just don’t add up – professionally and economically.
Keeping Kobe Bryant means the Lakers are already committed to over $32 million next season, including the Steve Nash deal. With their hopes of snagging one of the NBA’s biggest names, specifically LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, it’s hard to see them thinking straight about their building a championship team plan.
Everyone saw the Lakers go big in 2012-2013, building an expensive team by bringing in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, joining them with Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol. The result? Not a disaster, because the Lakers did make the playoffs, but they did get swept in the first round by the Spurs, and the team ended up being broken to pieces. World Peace amnestied, Howard escaping as far as possible. Using old players to clog the salary cap while filling in the rest of the pieces with whatever’s available isn’t how you get Bryant that sixth NBA title ring he’s dreaming of every night.
Steve Nash might not last the season. He’s not thinking about retiring now, but it won’t surprise anyone if he’ll be singing a different tune by the end of the season. Maybe he’ll realize that they’re better without him (and they are). But Kobe Bryant still isn’t worth the massive extension he got, even if his ego is telling him that there are no hometown discounts. His name is worth that money, especially outside the United States. His basketball ability? The Lakers could have found better use for it.