When the news of Kobe Bryant’s contract extension with the Lakers broke on Monday, many fans of the team were immediately annoyed by the dollars being committed to the face of the franchise over the next two seasons.
The problem isn’t that Bryant doesn’t deserve every penny. It’s that at this stage of his career, he may no longer be capable of being the best player on a championship-caliber team, and the money tied up in his salary will limit the options the franchise has in surrounding him with enough talent to once again contend for a title.
But money isn’t the only factor in free agency, especially for veteran players. Guys who have already made tens of millions may be looking for a place to play where winning a championship in a major market is possible, and Bryant’s health and on-court ability once he returns from his Achilles injury may be as much of a factor as anything in players deciding to join him in Los Angeles.
From Sam Amick of USA Today:
But as [Carmelo Anthony] chatted briefly with USA TODAY Sports about Kobe Bryant’s two-year, $48.5 million extension, he may as well have been speaking for the entire free agency class of 2014 when he made this not-so-surprising statement: Bryant’s health and performance, rather than the size of his deal, likely will determine whether anyone of equal stature joins him this summer. When asked if free agents like himself would see Bryant as a star who is still worthy of joining in order to contend for a title, Anthony said, “I mean you’ll have to see. It’s hard to gauge at this point, not until he comes back (from his April Achilles tendon tear) and figures some things out. So I don’t know. They might have some plans up their sleeve.”
Anthony is potentially one of the more high-profile free agents next summer, along with the Heat’s core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. But Anthony is more likely than the Miami trio to consider leaving his current situation, and he has a personal relationship with Bryant off the court that may make Los Angeles an appealing destination.
Superstars will want to get paid as close to the maximum that they’re allowed to earn under the collective bargaining agreement, but a winning situation in a favorable market may be worth giving up some of those dollars. In Los Angeles, Bryant’s health and whether or not he still has an ability to play at an all-world level — even in spurts — will go a long way in terms of influencing any relevant free agent decisions.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.