When news broke on Monday that the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant agreed to terms on a two-year extension worth a reported $48.5 million, the NBA world was set abuzz.
After all, Bryant is 35 years old and coming off an Achilles injury. But, reports out of Lakers practices are Bryant is moving well, and doesn’t appear to have lost much, if anything at all.
Regardless, paying Bryant in excess of $20 million a season for the next two years raises questions as to where the Lakers go from here. The team had carefully planned to have plenty of salary cap space for the summer of 2014, when many marquee players can become free agents.
However, the likelihood of the Lakers signing two players to maximum contracts was slim. The signing of Bryant doesn’t so much affect that, as it does make filling out the roster more difficult.
Taking into consideration Bryant’s extension, the Lakers figure to have approximately $22 million available in cap space. That number may fluctuate depending on what the salary cap is set at, and it may increase if the Lakers opt to use the Stretch provision on Steve Nash.
By “stretching” Nash’s contract, the Lakers would waive the 17-year veteran and would only be responsible for $3.23 million of his $9 million contract.
Pau Gasol is in the final year of his contract and while he is undeniably on the decline, the prospect of signing him to a significantly reduced rate for a reduced role was palpable.
If Gasol could be retained as a third option for around $9 or $10 million a season, it would be a win-win for both parties. However, should the Lakers sign a big-name free agent, there likely wouldn’t be enough cap room to re-sign Gasol for anywhere near that amount.
Losing Jordan Hill would also become likely, assuming he is able to sustain his current level of play for the remainder of the season. Hill is currently earning $3.5 million and should easily command an increase in salary when he goes to sign a new contract.
What Bryant has meant to the Lakers franchise and the city of Los Angeles cannot be understated. He has become synonymous with the team and is widely regarded as one of the top Lakers of all-time.
Bryant’s monetary value to the franchise exceeds the $48 million he will receive from the Lakers. Without him, there isn’t the $5 billion television rights deal with Time Warner Cable.
The Lakers will still have some flexibility come summer and if Bryant is able to play at a high level, they will likely be able to attract another big-name player.
Perhaps the decision was made to buy time and keep an eye on the summer of 2015 when there may be more viable free agent options.
Should that be the case, as of now, the Lakers would only have Bryant’s contract and a team option for Robert Sacre on their payroll.
Bryant’s extension won’t cripple the Lakers, but it does appear to have hindered their flexibility.
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