Kobe Bryant's Contract, Injuries Mean LA Lakers Must Wait for Real Rebuild

J.M. Poulard@ShyneIVContributor IIFebruary 12, 2014

Could Kobe Bryant be unintentionally sabotaging the L.A. Lakers?
Could Kobe Bryant be unintentionally sabotaging the L.A. Lakers?Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers will find it extremely difficult to rebuild during Kobe Bryant’s final years with the franchise.

They will have roughly $26 million in cap space, and it stands to reason the Lakers will be interested in players on the free-agency market.

Headlining a long list of stud free agents this summer are LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Much like the rest of the league, the Purple and Gold are fascinated by James; however, he is under contract until the end of 2015-16, per Sham Sports, with an early-termination clause for this summer. He has been coy with respect to his future, though.

Anthony has shared with Rafi Kohan of The New York Observer his desire to hit the open market:

I want to be a free agent. I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.

The New York Knicks superstar has an option to terminate his contract this summer, which will result in teams wooing him. Per ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst, the Lakers are interested.

To be fair, Anthonys wife La La has publicly stated that her husband will likely remain a member of the New York Knicks, per an interview with BravoWatch What Happens Live (via ESPNNewYork.com).

L.A.s plan has always been to rebuild through free agency in the summer of 2014, according to information Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak shared with Mike Trudell at Lakers.com:

Several years ago, we made a conscious decision to line contracts up for this coming year of free agency. If you look at our payroll a year ago, with the exception of Steve Nash, we didnt have anybody under contract (for 2014-15). That didnt have so much to do with who was going to be a free agent in 2014, but more a function of some planning of how our roster (looked).

You really have to be conscious of when players get to a certain age. Even though they are great players, they’re used to being paid at a certain level. And a lot of times you end up paying a guy a year to two longer than you should. This happens with championship teams, and we didnt want to have a bunch of guys locked up at the ages of 35, 36, and 37. We’d rather have the flexibility to make some decisions.

Although Kupchak stated that the available players this summer were not part of the Lakers reasoning in the manner their player contracts were constructed, that seems like a bit of a white lie.

James and Anthony are the big fish Los Angeles is chasing (with James being the biggest one), but there are also players like Luol Deng, Zach Randolph (player option for 2014-15) and Chris Bosh (early-termination clause for this summer) who might land on their radar.

In theory, the Lake Shows projected cap room allows them to nab one superstar, perhaps a pair of stars or borderline elite players. However, things are trickier in practice.


Kobe Bryant Betraying Lakers

This could be the look on Kobe Bryant’s face until he finally retires.
This could be the look on Kobe Bryant’s face until he finally retires.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press/Associated Press

Between an Achilles tear and knee fracture, its fair to wonder whether Kobe Bryants $48.5 million extension will end up hurting the Lakers. There was some hope that the five-time champion would rejoin his teammates in early February, according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, but his body has not cooperated.

New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver selected Anthony Davis as Bryants replacement for the All-Star Game, which seems to indicate the former league MVP will be sidelined for a fairly long period of time.

Fair or not, Bryant must return to the floor this season and play at a high level as an audition of sorts. He has only appeared in six games this season. That’s it. Prospective free agents might be wary of teaming up with a broke-down Bryant still intent on commanding the lions share of offensive possessions.

Keep in mind his contract extension means that Los Angeles will be heavily dependent on Bryant and whichever player(s) it signs. Beyond the superstars, the Lakers will have vacant spots to fill and no money left to add middle-tier players.

In the event that Kobe Beans physical state is altered beyond repair, Laker Land will become an undesirable destination for the duration of his deal (expires at end of 2015-16, per Sham Sports). As a result, top-level free agents will likely stay away from the organization this summer.


Aiming for Summer 2015

Kevin Love and Kobe Bryant could end up playing together.
Kevin Love and Kobe Bryant could end up playing together.Jim Mone/Associated Press

The 2015 summer will have numerous high-impact players hitting the open market, and that might be the best time for the Los Angeles Lakers to strike.

Kevin Love has been heavily rumored to join the Purple and Gold given his UCLA ties, and it would appear that his departure from the Minnesota Timberwolves is inevitable.

According to Chris Broussard of ESPN.com (subscription required), Love and L.A. have a mutual interest: “As for the Kevin Love-to-New York rumors, most executives believe Love is destined for the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in 2015. ‘Thats a 100 percent certainty,’ one GM told me.”

Loves interest in the City of Angels, coupled with the cap space at the disposal of the franchise, makes for a compelling scenario.

The Lakers are projected to have approximately $36 million in cap room, which means they could potentially sign Love and another elite athlete to play with Kobe Bryant in his final year with the franchise.

It’s worth noting, LeBron James could potentially remain a member of the Miami Heat in 2014-15 and then forgo his 2015-16 player option. In other words, James could theoretically join the Lakers in 2015 provided that the franchise is an attractive destination.

In order to complete this move, the Lakers would have to sign players this summer to one-year contracts and then go all in once 2015 arrives. Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles essentially echoes that sentiment:

If Love is a target for the Lakers in 2015, they would probably pass on signing a max player to a long-term deal this offseason with the hopes of getting Love and making a push for one other marquee free agent with the cap room they will have. Players like Rajon Rondo, Arron Afflalo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Roy Hibbert and Tyson Chandler are all eligible to be free agents in 2015.

By L.A. postponing long-term spending until 2015, Bryant can use the 2014-15 campaign as his final alpha-male season, and it will give him an opportunity to demonstrate his skill level. Free agents will get a chance to see what Bryant can accomplish to possibly help them take the Lakers back to the promised land.

In the event the 2-guard still views himself as the Kobe System, with players basically orbiting around him, that situation will only last for one season. Then, Bryants successors will become the franchises saviors.

Granted, that scenario does not sound all that appealing quite frankly. Allowing a less talented Bryant to call the shots (while taking them all!) and make the most money on the team when he is clearly a diminished player hardly sounds like a proposition worth signing up for.


Closing the Chapter

Does Kobe Bryant help or hinder the L.A. Lakers at this stage of his career?
Does Kobe Bryant help or hinder the L.A. Lakers at this stage of his career?John Bazemore/Associated Press

As counterintuitive as this might sound, the Lakers might be better off if Kobe Bryant retired at the end of this season. The future Hall of Famer complicates the rebuilding project of the Los Angeles Lakers by virtue of his two-year deal and his reduced physical state.

It’s difficult to assess the team’s needs because the front office is not quite sure what Bryant will be able to give it, and that’s a little disconcerting considering his sizable contract.

What does he bring to the table? Historically, the answer has been scoring and playmaking, but one can only wonder now whether Bryant will be capable of doing these things going forward. One thing is certain though: The Lakers will no longer contend for championships with Bryant regardless of the free-agency results in 2014 or 2015.

He is an obstacle the franchise must endure. In the end, the Lakers will make a move either this summer or the following one, but it might not matter. The only transactions of note for the Lake Show will occur once Bryant is gone.

The reset button is programmed to operate only after Bryant’s final game in a Lakers uniform, and that is only scheduled to happen in 2016.


Salary cap information courtesy of Sham Sports.


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