Kobe Bryant signed a three-year, $90 million contract extension three years ago, a massive deal that will expire following this season. The Los Angeles Lakers will wipe Bryant's $30.5 million salary, eight million more than the second-highest player (Dirk Nowitzki), off the books in addition to 12 other contracts (excluding potential extensions). Steve Nash is currently the only Laker guaranteed on the 2014-15 payroll.
That gives the Lakers significant financial leverage in a free agency class that could potentially include LeBron James. Los Angeles will have deep pockets, and the prominence to attract several top-tier players. That's a promising combination.
Just, um, tell that to Bryant. He told Lakers Nation's Serena Winters that he isn't willing to take a pay cut, even though he'll be entering his 19th NBA season at age 36 when he's eligible for another deal.
Winters: If you do keep playing, and you prolong this retirement, you are gonna have to sign a new contract, and if you do it’s likely that you might have to take pretty big pay cut. Have you thought about that at all?
Kobe: “For me to sit here and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to take a huge pay cut. Nah, I’m going to try to get as much as I possibly can….I’m not taking any at all, that’s the negotiation you have to have.”
Bryant is obligated to explore the free agent market, and capitalize on his perceived value. He can optimize his financial potential, and we shouldn't crush him for exercising his rights as a free agent. It's telling, however, that his peers have left money on the table, so their front office can compete in the open market.
Tim Duncan cut more than half his salary — he's earning $10.4 million this season, still a significant amount, but San Antonio was presumably prepared to offer more dough to secure their franchise linchpin's services. Manu Ginobili will bank 14 million over the next two seasons, which still may be a tad high given the deterioration of his body, but it still represents a 50 percent cut nonetheless. These deliberate decisions allowed the San Antonio Spurs to re-sign Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million contract, without diving into the luxury tax. Marco Belinelli and Jeff Pendergraph also took a chunk of the money Duncan and Ginobili forgoed.
It appears that Bryant won't follow their path. That's his prerogative. He just has no right to complain if the front office, hamstrung by another enormous extension, fails to build a championship contender around him.