Trade value is often a subjective measure of a player's actual worth, and Kobe Bryant could be the extreme example of that.
Last season—before he had returned from a torn Achilles—the Los Angeles Lakers deemed him valuable enough for a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension. That cemented his spot as the NBA's highest-paid player and all but assured that the five-time champion would eventually retire having worn only the famed purple and gold during his storied career.
Having Bryant's basketball story end in the same place where it started seemed to be a major motivation for both sides. The business and sentimental ties were just as apparent as the money when the heavy commitment was made public.
According to one general manager, though, those bonds need to be as strong as ever. Even if Bryant and the Lakers somehow grew apart, the executive said the two sides would be stuck with one another, via Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:
Seven months after he ruptured his left Achilles tendon—and three weeks before he fractured his left kneecap—Bryant signed a $48.5 million, two-year deal. The contract, widely derided as the worst in the game, makes Bryant nearly impossible to move, even were the Lakers to try. Asked about Kobe’s value on the market, one GM answers definitively: "Zero. Look at that number. Who takes him?"
The words carry more of shock value than any actual surprise.
Many dubbed Bryant's extension an overpay at the time he signed it, and that was before injuries limited him to six games for the entire 2013-14 campaign. Even those who supported the deal saw it as something of a lifetime achievement award, handed over more for what he had done in the past than what he could do in the present or the future.
"Is Kobe worth $48 million over the next two seasons? Probably not," wrote USA Today's Sean Highkin. "But will he have been worth $328 million over the last 20? Absolutely."
Obviously, that logic doesn't work for the other 29 teams in the league.
If they brought in Bryant, they would only get the high-risk, high-priced years at the end of his career. Only the Lakers can fully reap the rewards of what he has sown, whether in the form of the championship banners he helped raise or the jerseys he continues to sell.
Whatever his value is around the league, it isn't nearly as much as it is in L.A. Put the focus on his present, and he's a 36-year-old with injury questions, an attitude that doesn't work with everyone and a heavy salary coming his way during each of the next two seasons.
All of that said, it's hard to imagine that he would be completely impossible to move should the Lakers ever decide to pursue that path. As NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff observed, history has seen worse contracts exchanged on the open market:
There have been plenty of contracts far worse than Bryant’s that have been traded over the years (the Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas deal comes to mind), and when you consider that Bryant’s is a deal that expires after next season, which would be of value to a team trying to rebuild by clearing space on the roster, it’s certainly not impossible to envision.
It is, however, impossible to imagine Bryant or the Lakers examining that option.
His extension was made to guarantee his legacy as a one-franchise talent. It doesn't matter what his trade value is, because he isn't going anywhere until he's leaving the game for good.