For so many years, it seemed the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t care about the money they were spending – winning titles, competing for them, was the only thing that mattered. So suddenly, a move that professionally makes no sense – using the amnesty clause on Metta World Peace, is brought forth, while the real financial burden on the team, Kobe Bryant, gets more money than anyone in the NBA.
In fact, Bryant’s salary is going to be the second highest in NBA history. In his obsession to be-like-Mike, Bryant wanted to be the second player in NBA history with a $30 million salary.While it’s obvious Bryant remains one of the most popular NBA players on the planet (possibly more outside the United States and especially in China), when you try to think with some level-headedness, the Lakers should have gotten rid of his deal two years ago, or last year.
This isn’t hindsight wisdom. The signs were on the wall throughout the 2010-2011 NBA season, and only got stronger over the last couple of seasons. Regardless of Bryant’s numbers, he is declining. Worse – the players around him haven’t gotten any better. They have gotten older, and the once chance to have a franchise player grow besides Bryant and eventually take his place blew up in the Lakers’ face, leading to a season in which no one is quite sure what’s going to happen and where they’re headed.
Just like the Boston Celtics, the Lakers are too proud to announce a “tanking” season. No franchise in the world will actually admit to it, and the Lakers, at least from a public standpoint, couldn’t have done anything anyway. No one was willing to take the deals of Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace, while Bryant has a no-trade clause in his contract. Adding minimum wage deals (Nick Young, Wesley Johnson) and one mid-level exception was all they could get.
Bryant isn’t the only one to blame Howard seems to be the first star not to be blinded by the Lakers’ lights and championship banners. It also has to do with Mike D’Antoni simply being a disappointing coach ever since he left Phoenix and Steve Nash, with the reunion being far less than explosive. It has to do with Howard himself not being the kind of star people expect him to be.
And yet Bryant is at the center of a team that has disappointed, at least its own expectations, for three consecutive seasons, refusing to realize the real problem. Bryant isn’t an issue when he makes $10-15 million, but he is one when it’s over $20-30 million, which is the real clog on their cap space and the cause for no flexibility and tons of luxury tax, while being the kind of player that doesn’t allow anything to thrive next to him for more than 10 games a year.
It’s cool when he refuses to share when the talent around him is good enough to compensate, but Pau Gasol isn’t his 2009-self anymore. Lamar Odom is gone. The shooters from the bench like Sasha Vujacic are gone. Metta World Peace is gone. Steve Nash is looking like a 40-year old man with every minute on the court that goes by. If NBA GMs are required to slightly be clairvoyant, they completely missed out on something that was pretty obvious to a lot of people.
Maybe next season won’t be as bad as this one, but that’s hard to believe. Too many things need to happen for the Lakers to be more than a barely-making-the-playoffs kind of team. In one season, maybe everything will be different. A high draft pick, plenty of cap space, and a Kobe Bryant that’s willing to take a huge paycut in order to draw a big name star (LeBron James? Carmelo Anthony) to put the franchise back where it belongs. But don’t be so sure players will be climbing over each other to get to be the chosen one who plays next to Bryant. The last few years have taught us that’s not the privilege the Lakers try to make it look like.