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What Does Kobe Bryant's Extension Mean For The Lakers Future?

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What Does Kobe Bryant's Extension Mean For The Lakers Future?
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If you feel a wind blowing from the west to the east today, it could be the power of Los Angeles Lakers fans breathing one big collective sigh of relief.

As reported first by NBA.com , the Lakers and Bryant agree today on a three-year, maximum extension that Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting to be for approximately $90 million.

That means Bryant will remain a Laker until the end of the 2013-14 season—his 18th with the club that acquired him from the Charlotte Hornets back in 1996.

Bryant will turn 36 soon after the deal is set to expire. If all goes according to plan, then Bryant will have spent half of his life donning the purple and gold armor.

Bryant's extension comes on the heels of Pau Gasol signing a three-year, $60 million extension back in December that will keep him on the Lakers through the conclusion of the same season as Bryant's.

What this means is that the Lakers now have Bryant, Gasol, and Ron Artest locked up until 2014, while they hold team options on Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum for the 2012-13 season.

What's interesting about these signings is how they all conclude after the signing of the league's next collective bargaining agreement in 2011.

If the new agreement contains a hard cap and the league decides to do away with the mid-level exemption and luxury tax, the Lakers are all but guaranteed of having their core locked up and grandfathered into the new deal, regardless of what the new salary cap is.

In other words, what the Lakers have done was find a loophole in whatever the new CBA contains, continuing to give them a huge advantage over smaller market teams.

Compare the Lakers situation to that of the Knicks this summer. While the Lakers are all set for at least the next two years, the Knicks might not have a choice but to spend all of their cap space this summer. Of course, the Knicks want to spend it, but what if they can't get LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, or Amare Stoudemire to sign? One worst-case scenario had them only being able to sign one of them, potentially going after Carmelo Anthony next summer.

But if there's a new hard cap, the Knicks might not have any cap space under the new deal to add another player.

That means that if the Knicks miss out on all five of the aforementioned guys, they might have to overspend on second-tier and third-tier guys like Rudy Gay, Mike Miller, Ray Allen, and Raymond Felton in case that money is no longer available for them to spend.

The only downside for the Lakers is that they have very little flexibility with which to improve their roster between the signing of the next CBA and 2014. That doesn't mean that they have zero flexibility. It just means that they won't have any cap space until then and there might not be a mid-level exception after this summer.

So, the Lakers will have to use their mid-level exception this summer, and wisely. In a perfect world, that would mean a point guard who can shoot from long-range. Since the Lakers don't have a first-round pick in this June's draft, the only way they can hope to get a point guard is with their mid-level.

Should the Lakers fail to land a point guard this summer, they might have to trade Lamar Odom, who only has one guaranteed year left on his deal with a $4 million buy-out for the 2012-13 season.

The Bryant signing also won't have any impact on whether or not the Lakers can obtain one of the top free agents this summer in a sign-and-trade type deal.

If anything, they now have more flexibility.

If Chris Bosh was determined to join the Lakers, the Toronto Raptors would much rather prefer to get something in return than see him walk away for nothing with the salary cap expected to decrease, and no cap space with which to replace him.

By signing Gasol to an extension, they can now offer either Bynum or Gasol to the Raptors who might not have been as interested in Gasol when he only had one more year left on his deal.

Regardless of what happens this summer, the Lakers are all but assured of having at least four—possibly five—of their core players locked up at a time when other teams might not have the cap space to retain their free agents.

Lakers fans are no longer waiting to exhale.

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