Once a generation, a player defines a franchise. Michael Jordan did it in Chicago (even with his unglorious return). Karl Malone and John Stockton are synonymous with the Utah Jazz. Dating farther back, names like Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, and Reggie Miller are associated with one team.
Add Kobe Bryant to that list.
With his contract extension agreed to with the Lakers on Monday, Bryant has ensured himself a 20-year career with the Los Angeles, a soon-to-be NBA record for tenure with one team. Coming into the league at 17-years old, Bryant has donned only the purple and gold jerseys for his NBA career and that’ll be the case when he finishes his career a Laker in two years.
But for a man so widely liked and respected, Bryant’s extension was met with lots of criticism. Fans who were anxious for the possibilities of next summer were turned off by the enormity of Bryant’s contract. His rumored $23.5 million cap hit for next year is $10 million more than they selfishly wished for. The people who had the long-shot idea that LeBron James and/or Carmelo Anthony would be Lakers after next summer are the same ones ripping into Bryant for not taking a pay cut to allow more room for them to sign.
For all those fans, I have a simple statement: shame on you.
In the current stage of the NBA, few things are guaranteed. Speculation is always fun, but it just that: speculation. We can speculate about a super team that features LeBron, Melo, and Bryant and all the titles they could win. We could speculate about the Lakers bringing in tons of talent at discounts and thriving for years. But at the end of the day, most of it will be unlikely. LeBron won’t leave Miami. Melo won’t come to L.A.. The Lakers don’t have assets to barter for young talent.
But they have Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers did exactly what they should have. They knew Bryant wanted to be here. Therefore, they secured the assets the have. Sure, Bryant COULD have taken a pay cut. Sure, the Lakers COULD have low-balled him an offer. But neither side were ever going to do that, nor should they. Bryant’s absolutely earned every bit of his final contract. He owes absolutely nothing to the Lakers and by no means did he need to take a pay cut.
So instead of celebrating the fact that Bryant will retire as a Laker, we’re telling him how selfish he is for not taking a pay cut. We’re criticizing the Lakers front office for even offering him that contract. Is this not the same front office that we’ve held in such high regard, specifically Mitch Kupchak? Are we to believe Kupchak and Jim Buss threw logic out the window when they signed Bryant’s extension?
No. The Lakers are still in great hands. With or without Nash’s $9 million cap hit next summer (which could be shrunk down to $3 million with the stretch provision), the Lakers have room to bring in one more max contract. Anyone who thought the Lakers would get two max contracts into LA is welcome to leave at this point. With only about four players possibly worth a max deal next summer (James, Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade) and none of them guaranteed to even BE on the market, the Lakers didn’t play a hypothetical game when they resigned Bryant. They knew what they had and rewarded him for his contributions with a great contract.
Congrats to Kobe. Congrats to the Lakers. It was a job well done.