November 28, 2013
By Kenneth D. Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
Lakers fans need not worry about what’s going to happen during the summer robust free agent class that will include LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony because the team extended Kobe Bryant’s contract for two years at $48.5 million on November 25.
Talk radio pundits and basketball analysts concur the Lakers ownership led by Jim Buss, over paid Bryant and thus crippled the Lakers’ chances of seriously competing for another NBA title in two years.
Die hard Laker fans will scoff at that, saying the team was smart in securing the face of the franchise and allowing him to retire as arguably the greatest Laker of all time with at least five rings and the all-time leading scorer mark.
Bryant will remain the highest paid player in the league pending what James and Anthony get in the open market, but may have taken cash over the possibility of championships.
All of this would really be great if the Lakers and their fans knew what they were getting, but the Kobe Bryant who returns as soon as Sunday, after rupturing his Achilles in April against the Golden State Warriors will not be the guy who tore the NBA up for the great part of 17 seasons.
Bryant returned to practice with the team two weeks ago and is on schedule to play any day now. His jump shot has looked crisp and spot on in practice and there reportedly have been no lingering signs from the Achilles tear.
However, even as a shadow of himself he will be much better than any of the top players expected to be drafted in the next two years. The larger question will be for how long will he stay healthy?
Bryant has already cashed a $24 million check on a $30 million contract this season, the final year of a six-year max deal.
Many were expecting the Lakers to wait until after the season to cut a deal with Bryant and gauge the temperature of James and Anthony to two top tier free agents, but loyalty to Bryant and Laker fans won out.
If the season ended right now the surprising Lakers at 7-7 would not make the playoffs. The forecast is the Lakers will win fewer than 40 games with or without Bryant and not make the post season.
Of course, the Lakers could just tank the season and pray they hit the lottery and draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker the two best players in collegiate basketball.
Providing they miss on either one of them the chances of getting a really good player in the first round of the draft is solid.
The question here is the Lakers plan after Kobe Bryant. There doesn’t seem to be one. Their over 300 game sell out streak snapped, the emerging Clippers now evolving into the top tenant of Staples Center and their growing popularity among local basketball fans.
If nothing else, the Lakers brass has stabilized their ship and their brand, which is all Kobe Bryant. Now they are banking that anything short of another NBA title will still be just as profitable.