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.