In late November of last year, Kobe Bryant tested his hold over Lakers fans by agreeing to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension to likely finish his career with the Lakers. While the deal was technically a pay-cut from the $30 million he made last season, it’s only minimal and led lots of Lakers fans to criticize him.
“If Kobe’s so concerned about winning a title, why’d he sign a $50 million deal?”
“If Kobe wanted a ring, he’d sign for $10 million and convince LeBron and Carmelo to come.”
“Kobe ruined the Lakers for his last two seasons by killing their cap space.”
From that point in November on, we heard those three statements and variations of them ad nauseam. After the Big 3 set a precedent of taking pay cuts to win titles, all superstars were expected to follow suit, and when Bryant bucked that trend to get money he had earned, fans weren’t willing to accept that.
I bring this up in light of Paul George‘s horrific and gruesome injury. George himself recently signed an extension for the max he was eligible for. His current contract is good through 2018-19 and will see him earn nearly $80 million, which he gets in spite of his injury. It was a sobering reality that players, especially young ones, aren’t invincible. George’s career may not be over, but he likely won’t be the same player ever again.
And that’s why players should never be criticized for not taking pay cuts.
Sure, injuries are rare, especially ones that serious. Career-ending ones are few and far between. But they can happen to anyone at anytime, NBA game or not. Players knew that before and will be especially aware of it now.
It’s why Eric Bledsoe is demanding a max contract. It’s why Carmelo Anthony couldn’t turn down $30 million. It’s why Dwight Howard still considered the LA Lakers and the extra $30 million they could offer last summer in spite of his hatred of Bryant.
And it’s why Bryant didn’t think twice about taking a Tim Duncan-like deal this past winter and signed his name on that $48.5 million deal.
An NBA career can end in the blink of an eye. While it’s great if players willingly take pay cuts for the betterment of their team, it absolutely should not be expected. Players should never be expected to take pay cuts and players should never be criticized for not.