Kobe Bryant signed a two-year contract extension with the Lakers on Monday, a deal worth $48.5 million that will leave L.A. enough cap space next season to pursue a max contract level player in free agency — but just barely.
The reaction to the news from Lakers fans and outside observers alike was mostly similar, and followed a consistent theme: This was too much money to assign to Bryant for the next two years, especially with the fact that the team is far from a championship level contender as currently constructed.
Bryant should have taken less money, so the popular opinion goes, in order to leave some for those who might come to the team in free agency next summer.
The reality, however, is that the high profile free agents-to-be aren’t all that likely to change teams, whether the money is there in Los Angeles or it isn’t. The franchise decided instead to lock up the city’s most iconic sports figure for two more seasons, at an above-market price.
“This was easy,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on Monday night. “This wasn’t a negotiation. The Lakers made their offer with cap and building a great team in mind while still taking care of me as a player.
“I simply agreed to the offer.”
Until the hours before the Lakers’ meeting with the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, that’s all Bryant would say about the contract extension. He is 35 years old, working his way back from a torn Achilles and the Buss family is still betting Bryant is the best free-agent star available on the market, betting that Bryant can still drive ticket sales and TV ratings and make these Lakers relevant again.
This was a business decision for the Lakers even more than it was a basketball one.
The team’s consecutive sellout streak that lasted more than seven years came to an end a couple of weeks ago, and the fact that Bryant wasn’t in uniform when it happened is anything but a coincidence.
The Lakers are a franchise built around winning of course, but are even more about doing so with some of the game’s biggest stars wearing the purple and gold. Bryant not only drives ticket sales, he is also the face of the team’s most recent string of championships.
Locking him up for two years at any price was the right thing to do from a business standpoint, but more importantly to those questioning the amount of the contract and where it puts the team in terms of its salary cap situation moving forward, Bryant’s comments here show that he wasn’t the one pushing for a big-money deal — rather, it was the Lakers coming to the table with a more than acceptable offer for one of the game’s all-time greats.