Breaking Down How Kobe Bryant's Extension Impacts LA Lakers' Future

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Breaking Down How Kobe Bryant's Extension Impacts LA Lakers' Future
Photo via Lakers Twitter account.

True to their mutual word, the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant remain meant for each other.

The Lakers announced that they agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Black Mamba, ending any speculation that he would reach the open market this summer:

According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, the deal will be worth approximately $48 million, meaning Kobe's reign as the league's highest-paid player will continue:

ESPN's Tom Haberstroh adds further context, using Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson to put Vino's new pact into perspective:

That the Lakers would hand Kobe nearly $50 million at the age of 35, while he's still injured, says a lot about their faith in him to continue dominating. More so, it shows how much he means to the organization, city and its fans.

Players Kobe's age don't get this kind of money; rather, they're not supposed to. But this is Kobe. To the Lakers, he's irreplaceable, and it shows in his extension. They weren't ready for life without him, for what comes next, and I don't blame them.

But now that Kobe's extension is ironed out, there are more pressing discussions to tackle—issues that are bigger than Kobe's shiny new deal and his impending return. Bigger than his ceiling upon that return.

Where do the Lakers go from here? Now that they know how much money and cap space Kobe commands, what is their next play?

The future has been staring them down like a single Wilt Chamberlain on the prowl. Kobe's extension stood between the Lakers and what would come next. With that out of the way, it's time to confront the future head on.

Time to see what type of team the Lakers can build.


Salary Outlook

Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

We already know that their initial plan was to chase LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who are both eligible to hit unrestricted free agency this summer. But that was only possible if Kobe's next contract allowed it—which it does. Sort of.

With Kobe's new contract on the books, the Lakers have a hair over $34 million in guaranteed deals committed to next year's team, according to Hoopsworld. Next season's salary cap is projected to exceed $62 million. At first glance, it seems the Lakers will have upwards of $28 million to burn through, but it's not that simple.

Cap holds and future draft picks, among other things, must be taken into account. Larry Coon, author of the CBA FAQ, does a nice job of breaking down what other expenses the Lakers will incur leading into this summer:

The salary cap next summer is projected to be $62.9 million. The Lakers will also have their own first round draft pick. Based on their current record, this pick would fall around #15, and would therefore count around $1.5 million against their cap.This would give them a total of about $37.66 million for six players. We need to add another six cap holds totaling $3.04 million, which brings the total to about $40.70 million.

All in all, here's what the Lakers' salary situation will look like this summer, minimum cap holds and estimated draft picks included:

Lakers Salary Picture for 2014-15
Player Salary
Steve Nash $9,701,000
Kobe Bryant $23,500,000
Robert Sacre $915,243
Nick Young* $1,227,985 (Player Option)
Elias Harris* $816, 482 (Non-Guaranteed)
Ryan Kelly* $1,016,482 (Qualifying Offer)
2014 Draft Pick $1,500,000
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
All-inclusive Total $40,197,310
Projected Salary Cap $62,900,000

Salary info from Grantland, Hoopworld and Larry Coon.

If Nick Young returns and the Lakers bring Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris back, they're looking at footing a roughly $38.1 million bill. This number can go down if one or more of Kelly, Harris and Young do not return. The Lakers could then replace them with a minimum salary hold, lowering their bottom line. Their placement in the draft could also increase or decrease their ultimate total.

Bear in mind that the Lakers must also renounce the rights to their current expiring deals to open up the necessary room. Players like Pau Gasol and Steve Blake would be essentially forfeited without the promise of inking a second dignitary to a loaded deal.

Assuming that the pictured estimation holds relatively accurate and the Lakers do what's necessary for maximum flexibility, they will have a little over $22 million to play with.


Now What?

USA TODAY Sports

So what are their options?

Should the Lakers be content with shelling out nothing but minimum contracts, they have enough to offer a max deal or close to it. As Coon explains, Anthony could be eligible to earn more in the first year of his new deal than the Lakers can offer. LeBron, who according to Grantland's Jared Dubin can take home a smidge over $20 million, will be well within their price range.

This is where Steve Nash's expiring contract can open things up. No matter how healthy he is, he will be a prime candidate for a salary dump if the Lakers see fit to move him. Removing his $9.7 million salary from the books creates even more cap room for the Lakers, ensuring they have enough to lure 'Melo or LeBron outright, with enough left over to make some other moves.

Doing so could be a pivotal part of the free-agency process if the Lakers wish to construct a title contender around Kobe again. Nash, injured as ever, won't be the selling point the Lakers initially hoped he could be. Joining forces with a then-36-year-old Kobe and point guard barreling toward retirement might not be enough to woo 'Melo or LeBron, both of whom are still in the prime of their careers.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
Nash's contract is a valuable trade piece.

The possibility remains that LeBron or 'Melo could accept a pay cut to play in Los Angeles, but it's one that's been fractured by Kobe's latest deal. If Kobe didn't take less to remain with his incumbent team, it's unlikely that either LeBron or 'Melo would be willing to sacrifice guaranteed cash to play with him.

That in mind, Kobe's extension shakes up the free-agency ranks no matter what.

If he alone isn't enough to convince LeBron and Anthony to leave their current digs, that's one less "player" in the market, increasing the likelihood that each of the two stays put. But the Lakers remain a player regardless. They have the ability—or in Anthony's case, means to possess the ability—to offer a max deal to someone.

They don't have to hand out a superstar salary, though. Should the market dry up and/or the Lakers strike out, they can spend their money on consolation prizes like Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki. Or, less likely given Kobe's age, they could stand pat until 2014-15, when more stars are slated to hit the open market.


The Verdict

 

Kobe's contract makes it more difficult for the Lakers to poach a superstar.

Again, they have the means, but their flexibility is limited, if not nonexistent, after chasing that one luminary. And forget about nabbing two. As I've outlined previously, Kobe would've needed to sign for under $6 million if that were to happen. His extension guarantees him an annual salary approximately four times that amount.

Look for Nash's contract to become the subject of trade rumors as this situation plays out, then, as it gives the Lakers more money to work with, thus strengthening their sales pitch.

Did the Lakers make the right move with Kobe Bryant?

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Don't rule out the Lakers abandoning the 'Melo and LeBron idea altogether either. Now that they know what they're working with, they could elect to take on some bigger deals via trade that hurt their spending power but make them immediately better.

No matter what happens, one thing's for certain: These Lakers still believe in Kobe. They're still convinced he's enough. That even if they whiff on landing another superstar, he's worth it.

His latest payday tells us that much.

 

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