Just one day after saying he wouldn't take a pay cut, Kobe Bryant is now confident that he'll be able to reach a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers that will allow him to retire with the only team he's ever played for.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
"Kobe Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday that he fully intends to retire as a Laker someday and doesn't believe there will be any problem securing an extension for as long as he can play at an elite level."
Bryant's word choice is critical here.
He seems to think he'll be able to lock up an extension as long as he's an "elite" player. He is apparently confident that after a torn Achilles and more than 1,000 regular season games, he'll continue to perform at an extremely high level.
Bryant's confidence isn't surprising, but it seems clear that a reality check is in order.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that "elite," as Bryant uses it, means something approaching an All-Star level of play. That's a relatively low bar, as a couple dozen players end up playing for the All-Star team each year, which dulls some of the luster out of the term "elite." But drawing a line there makes things easier.
Bryant will be 35 before the 2013-14 season begins, which doesn't bode well at all for his chances at an All-Star berth next year (or in any year down the road). In NBA history, just nine guards aged 35 or older have been named to the All-Star team, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Any guesses as to how many of those instances involved a player coming off of a career-threatening injury like a torn Achilles tendon?
The answer is "zero."
So, even without factoring in the torn Achilles, history strongly indicates that Bryant's days as an elite player would have been coming to an end very soon. But with the injury, there's simply no reason to think Bryant will ever be a top-tier talent again.
That's not a knock on Bryant; it's just a statement of fact based on historical precedent.
There are plenty of counterarguments available, but they'll all inevitably be based on hopes and beliefs. There are no facts to support the notion that Bryant will somehow buck the trend.
This is important because Bryant seems to base his faith in a smooth contract negotiation on his ability to remain among the league's best players.
Because he almost certainly won't be an elite player this season (or in any in the future), he's going to have to adjust his contract expectations, and probably even reconsider that pay cut he so quickly dismissed.
If Bryant wants to retire a Laker, he's going to have to do it at a discount.