“The only number I saw was the only one I agreed to,” he said.
But the larger issue is how sports leagues and franchises operate. How many players have been traded or waived because of financial reasons with the explanation that “it’s just business?” How many lockouts have there been in order to control and limit players’ salaries? The owners demanded a certain system, the players ultimately were defeated and had to accept it, and now Bryant signs a contract under those rules and he is the one criticized?
The Twitter attacks on Bryant by fans added to the irony. Here is a guy who has performed magnificently for the Lakers franchise for 17 years, has played with all sorts of injuries, is rehabilitating from his Achilles injury with a zeal unique to him. Yet fans are criticizing him for taking too much money and screwing the franchise around.
Only in LA.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak played fot the Lakers four years and has been in the front office since 1986, so he is accustomed to the glamorous insanity that is a fundamental part of the franchise. For Kupchak, signing Bryant was a no-brainer. Consider the facts:
- Bryant is in the final year of his contract.
- If he comes back from injury and plays well, his price could have gone up.
- If the Lakers refused to offer him an extension and he came back and played well, he could have been insulted enough to go somewhere else.
- If Bryant became a free agent, his cap hold figure would have been more than $45 million, further limiting Kupchak’s ability to sign other free agents.
- It is a mystery how anyone could believe that a Lakers team without Bryant next season would logically have a better chance than a Lakers team with Bryant and somehow be more attractive to elite players. He may be older, but he’s still the centerpiece and gives the Lakers the best chance to compete and attract talent.
Considering all the factors, Kupchak had a decision to make. He could:
- Sign Bryant now and be criticized for giving him too much money and paralyzing the cap.
- Sign him during the summer and be criticized for giving him too much money and paralyzing the cap.
- Not sign Bryant, risk losing him, then be criticized for not having the common sense to give one of the greatest players in franchise history a contract he had so richly earned.
Kupchak insisted to reporters that the Lakers could still be competitive on the free agent market this summer. Perhaps they can persuade Luol Deng, Zach Randolph or Rudy Gay – free agents to be – to come to LA. And in 2015, there is no debate in LA. Kevin Love will return to Southern California. That’s a given. Ask any Lakers expert.
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But perhaps the strangest part of Bryant’s contract extension was the charge that by taking what the Lakers offered, Bryant in effect hurt the team’s chances of winning. It has been pretty convincingly demonstrated over the years that Bryant is Jordan-fanatical about winning. To doubt that is to ignore his track record.
Ultimately, the Lakers made the correct decision to give Bryant a contract extension. His presence gives them the best chance of being successful in the immediate future and also the best chance of attracting at least one elite player.
And Kobe also made the correct decision. The Lakers offered; he accepted.
It was just business.
TAKE A SPIN THROUGH JAN HUBBARD’S ARCHIVE FROM SHERIDAN HOOPS.COM. FANTASTIC STUFF ON THE NBA, PAST AND PRESENT.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.