UPDATE: Saturday, Feb. 23, at 7:40 a.m. ET by Patrick Clarke
Lakers spokesman John Black responded to Mark Cuban's comments in a recent statement (via ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi): "We're aware of Mark Cuban's comments and feel they are inappropriate. As to the issue itself, we will not comment publicly on the amnesty issue as it relates to any of our players.''
---End of Update---
Per Tim MacMahon of ESPN, while appearing on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s Ben and Skin Show, the Mavericks owner said, "If you look at their payroll, even if Dwight (Howard) comes back, you’ve got to ask the question: Should they amnesty Kobe?"
Many Lakers fans already have the bitter-beer face, because for many, the amnesty clause is associated with players who can't perform at a level that warrants their current contract.
That's obviously not Bryant.
He's proving this season that he's still one of the best players in the NBA. Were it not for a brief stretch in which Bryant did his best Steve Nash impersonation, he might be leading the league in scoring.
As it is, he's still pouring in 26.6 points per game.
But there are reasons the Lakers should consider parting ways with the five-time NBA champ.
First, the money situation can't be ignored, and that is the primary factor in Cuban's point. Kobe is scheduled to make a Michael Jordan-esque $30.45 million next season, which is also the final year of his contract.
If the Lakers hope to re-sign Dwight Howard, their payroll will be near $100 million next season. That would be so far into the luxury tax, it would be almost as if they were paying player salaries two-and-a-half times.
Yes, we're talking about a Lakers organization that is associated with winning, and the organization makes tons of money. But at the end of the day, this is a business, and living in the luxury tax for prolonged periods just isn't smart.
Something has to give in regard to salaries.
Some might say, "Why Kobe? Why can't we give up some of these other ham-and-eggers?"
The answer to that has a few parts. The first reason is because those "ham-and-eggers" don't make more than $30 million next season, and doing away with them won't bring the same salary relief.
Second, Lakers fans must admit that as good as Bryant is right now, he's close to the end of his career. In all his brilliance, he's proven over the last two years that his presence doesn't always equate to serious contention for an NBA championship.
In some ways, he's a trap player. He's so great that you have to pay him among the best players in the league, but yet he isn't leading the team where it needs or wants to be.
We can blame Howard, Pau Gasol, Mike Brown, Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson, Mike D'Antoni or Jack Nicholson for the Lakers' struggles this season. But the fact is, they will be fortunate to make the playoffs.
Who knows what happens from there?
Kobe is such a presence on a team that he diminishes the identity of anyone he plays with. That only works to develop players that readily accept a supporting role. For other elite-level talents and egos like Howard, it creates a clash.
While I would much rather have Bryant's personality type than Howard's in most situations, I can't ignore the fact that Bryant is 34 years old with the clock ticking on his ability to play at an elite level.
Howard is 27, with a chance to be the cornerstone of the franchise for the next five to seven seasons.
If I had to choose between Bryant and Howard at this moment, I'd choose Howard. Unfortunately for Lakers/Bryant fans, that choice may be coming soon.
I find it hard to believe Howard would sign up for another year of this L.A. drama with Bryant. I wouldn't be shocked if Howard makes it known, in his own passive-aggressive way, that it's either him or Bryant.
Faced with that ultimatum, the Lakers would be foolish not to ride with D-12, the same way they chose Kobe over Shaquille O'Neal years ago.
That said, the amnesty clause would not be my first choice to unload Bryant.
A smarter approach would be to try to entice Bryant to waive his no-trade clause in exchange for a major talent and expiring deals (which the Lakers could release) and/or draft picks.
If that was unsuccessful, the amnesty option would be a bold but understandable move on a few conditions.
The Lakers would need to have Howard locked in to an extension, and they would need to have a lower-priced free agent in their sights to replace Bryant.
Obviously, there is no replacing Bryant in regard to talent. But the Lakers could find a player who better fits with Howard. Like it or not, D-12 should be the centerpiece of the future plans of the organization.
The Lakers can only hope Howard grows and matures into the type of leader who can lead a team to a title. But he may need Bryant out of the picture for that maturation to happen, and the Lakers need Bryant gone to have the funds to build around Howard.
Call Cuban crazy, but he may be on to something with this suggestion.
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