And I’ll say this: Bryant doesn’t deserve to be criticized as selfish for the amount of money he will make, and any subsequent cap space the Lakers lose as a result.
Two of Bryant’s teammates, Chris Kaman and Xavier Henry, strongly agree.
“I personally think he deserved more,” Kaman told SheridanHoops. “I know the only exception with that comment is that it can be hard for teams to get other guys and to fit pieces in when a guy makes that much money. But other than that, I think with the television deal the Lakers got and with the long-term sponsors they’ve gotten off of the back of Kobe and some other players, I think he deserves it. I think he could have been underpaid for what the owners are making compared to what he’s making.”
“He’s earned everything he’s got,” Henry told Sheridan Hoops. “He literally has earned every single thing he’s gotten, so for people to think he should take more of a pay cut is really not the right idea and it’s unappreciative of what he’s done.”
The contrasting argument is stars such as Tim Duncan and LeBron James are selfless because they took less money to build better teams around them and compete for championships.
However, it’s not as if Bryant tied the organization’s hands.
“This was easy,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “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.”
The organization found a middle ground to keep the face of the franchise happy and remain flexible with the salary cap going forward for the length of his extension.
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This season, Bryant will make roughly $30.4 million. Over the following two seasons of his extension, Bryant will average $24.25 million — nearly a 19 percent pay cut.
Despite the reduced salary, Bryant currently remains the league’s highest-paid player. (Carmelo Anthony will take over that distinction next season; Joe Johnson the year after that.)
In addition, the Lakers have enough cap space to either sign another superstar player to a maximum contract offer or spread that money and sign multiple lower-tier stars as the Dallas Mavericks did this past summer.
Furthermore, Bryant is currently the only Lakers player under contract entering the summer of 2016.
With Bryant and Steve Nash as the only guaranteed contracts on the payroll for next season, the immediate hurdle facing the Lakers is deciding which other players should be retained following this season.
“(Gasol) still has a lot of basketball left in him and offensively you can’t find any better, not at his position,” said coach Mike D’Antoni.
If the Lakers hold onto Gasol past the trade deadline, the team will be faced with a choice – re-sign Gasol or go after Carmelo Anthony or another free agent this summer.
If the Lakers trade Gasol before the deadline, it probably signals the team will make a full court press for Anthony.
If D’Antoni is retained, he poses an interesting dynamic. His free-flowing offense clashed with Anthony’s isolation style of play, and the two had a rocky ending when last paired together in New York.
D’Antoni has also appeared to favor Gasol at center in a small ball offense.
According to one Eastern Conference scout, Gasol would be the better fit next to Bryant.
“If the Lakers can sign Gasol for anything less than $10 million, I think it’s worth it,” the scout said. “Pau complements Bryant well with his high basketball IQ, being very talented offensively and also being a great passer for a big man.”
Once the Gasol domino falls (Sheridan threw out a Bulls trade scenario that was not well received in Chicago), the Lakers must decide which notable rotational players to retain.
Jordan Hill has finally begun to live up to his potential as a former No. 8 overall pick in 2009. Hill is averaging career highs in scoring (9.8), rebounding (8.9) and shooting (.545) as an energetic double-double starter. The market will be plentiful for the 26-year-old, which may lead to an exorbitant offer from a team that the Lakers won’t match.