Kobe Bean Bryant is worth every last penny the Lakers will pay him this season and next, totaling almost $60 million.
Just ask Time Warner Cable, which is shelling out a reported $3.6 billion over the next 20 years to televise Lakers games over their newly formed TWC Sports Network.
Without number 24 around, do you honestly think the cable provider would have shelled out a small fortune and launched an entire sports network?
For those who think the 34-year-old, five time world champion is over the hill or should restructure his current contract to "help" the team's bloated, $100 million payroll, you're not paying attention to just how important Kobe Bryant is to one of the most iconic franchises in sports.
Kobe will earn $27.85 million in 2012-13 and $30.45 million in the final year of his current contract. By the time he finishes the 2013-14 season, he'll be close to 36—he's already hinted he may walk away from the game at that point.
Bryant has not shut the door completely to an extra season in 2014-15, especially if he remains healthy and hungry for titles. If he does, you can bet the Lakers will be there to gladly pay him another $30 million.
Kobe Bryant is so much more than one of the NBA's all-time greatest players.
He puts people in the seats, whether it's at the regular Staples Center sellouts or on the road, where the Lakers year in and year out are the most attractive visiting team, regardless of their record.
The reason is Kobe Bryant.
His game is still better than 98 percent of the league—Bryant averaged 27.9 points (second to Kevin Durant by one tenth of a point), 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 38.5 minutes per game last year. He also helped his team win another gold medal at the Olympic Games this past summer in London.
Dwight Howard may indeed be the future of the Los Angeles Lakers, but Kobe Bryant is their reigning king.
He combines remarkable talent, passion, drama and a burning desire to win at all costs that permeates throughout the Lakers organization, its fans and the city of Los Angeles.
It would be one thing if Bryant's skills had so thoroughly diminished as to be a detriment to the team. Then you might have an argument for him to take less money. Still, even if we all agreed that would be the best route for the team to take, it appears that legally it couldn't be done.
According to ESPN.com's Andy and Brian Kamenetzky on May 25:
"Will Kobe Bryant restructure his deal to allow the Lakers more flexibility while retooling the roster? The answer... is 'no,' because that's not legal for NBA contracts. Can't happen. Won't happen. Dead issue. And as long as we're killing this approach, Kobe also can't be amnestied, then quickly resigned to the veteran's minimum while still getting his original money. Any amnestied player cannot rejoin his former team until the duration of the original contract ends. In other words, Kobe wouldn't be a Laker again until the 2014-2015 season. Probably not what those making the suggestion had in mind."
That was in May, long before Steve Nash and Dwight Howard somehow mysteriously dropped from the heavens into the Lakers' lap. I'm still trying to figure out these two mega-deals that brought one of the game's best point guards (Nash) and the three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Howard) to L.A. without having to give up much in the way of assets, other than a disgruntled, inconsistent center named Andrew Bynum.
Needless to say, the excitement and energy for the Lakers as they enter the regular season on October 30 is palpable. Who wouldn't pay top dollar to watch Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant all play together on the same team?
This is all the more reason to pay Kobe Bryant what he's worth and not worry too much about how the team will pay for everything. The Lakers will rake in about $120 million from TWC this season, plus another $90 million in ticket sales, which will more than offset their huge payroll and luxury taxes.
As Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times wrote this week:
"Lakers fans shouldn't be offended that Bryant, Gasol and Howard make so much money. They should simply be grateful that the Lakers understand that's the price they have to pay to ensure a championship-caliber team."
Those same fans should also be thanking ownership for being smart enough to know what sells in Los Angeles: namely, an entertaining product that wins championships...
With Kobe Bryant as its headliner.