Calm down Los Angeles Lakers fans, Kobe Bryant has not discovered some secret loop hole in his contract to opt out of his contract, nor have there been any reports that Kobe is trying to renegotiate his current contract in which he is scheduled to make nearly $25 million dollars next year.
While Kobe is not angling to get more money from the Lakers, Bryant may end up being the biggest winner at the end of this year’s free agency signing period.
Kobe has won five NBA titles and when you have more money than your children, grand children and great grand children can spend you only push yourself as hard as Bryant does in the off-season to cement your legacy within the game.
Bryant at this stage in his career is only playing for his place among the legends of Basketball.
Bryant is playing to make his statement that he is among the very best to have ever played the game.
Some of Kobe’s fans and supporters believe that given what Bryant has already accomplished in the NBA that considering Bryant to be the best player to ever play the game is a legitimate conversation.
Jerry West, the NBA logo, has already gone on record to say that in his mind that Bryant is the best Los Angeles Lakers player in history.
Many however feel that Kobe will never be in the same conversation with Michael Jordan.
Kobe’s detractors know the refrain – the number of championships won by Bryant while important is not the end of the argument as to which player is the best ever otherwise Robert Horry and his seven championship rings would have to be in the conversation as one the best players to ever play the game.
Arguing that Horry is among the all-time greats to have ever played the game is a clear example of how over reliance on a number can lead you astray.
Kobe’s detractors will also point out that the first three championships won by Kobe with Los Angeles had him in the supporting best actor role as opposed to the leading man role occupied by Shaquille O’Neal.
However, what can Kobe do besides win more championships?
Kobe can win championships against competition that is far better than the competition faced by Michael Jordan.
One of the reasons that fans who have bore witness to the play of Jordan and Bryant consider Jordan to be the better player is because there is the perception that Michael faced far greater competition than Bryant.
Several of the names that are among the current list of the 50 greatest NBA players – Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, John Stockton, Isaiah Thomas and James Worthy – also have the distinction of coming up short in the conference finals or NBA finals to Jordan.
In comparison, the list of truly great players who were beaten by Bryant in the conference finals or NBA finals that might be one day be considered among the NBA’s best 50 players is a much smaller list: Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash.
However, what if as rumored several of the big name free agents end up on the same team?
While the rest of the league might be scrambling and cursing their misfortune, Bryant might be looking at the situation as a blessing in disguise.
The Bulls with three all-stars in Derrick Rose, Wade and Bosh would have as many All-stars as any team that the Jordan led Chicago Bulls faced.
If the Bulls could also hang on to Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson they would arguably be as talented as any team that faced Jordan in the conference finals or NBA finals.
Of course, if LeBron James somehow decides to the join Wade and Bosh in Chicago without the Bulls losing either Rose or Noah, then there is no real conversation on the issue of who faced a more talented opponent.
The 2010-2011 Bulls would have more talent than any opponent that faced a Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls team.
If Kobe were able to defeat a Bulls team comprised of Bosh, James, Rose and Wade how could anyone say that Bryant was not worthy of wearing the crown of the best player to ever play the game?
The problem for Kobe is that beating a team comprised of Bosh, James, Rose and Wade would be incredibly difficult.
Kobe didn’t play well in game seven of the Finals and the Lakers were pushed to their limit before coming up from the canvas to knock out the Boston Celtics.
While Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are great players they are not as good as James, Wade, Bosh and Rose.
If James, Wade, Bosh and Rose played together next year, the record for most wins in an NBA season would be on death watch from the opening tip of the season.
A Chicago Bulls team made up of James, Wade, Bosh and Rose would likely be the favorites even in a series with a two time defending NBA Champion such as the Los Angeles Lakers.
No one would anyone expect Bryant and his Lakers to defeat a team comprised of such high quality all-stars.
Bryant couldn’t win the title all by himself.
Bryant would have to demonstrate leadership skills to bring out the best in his teammates; lack of leadership skills is something Kobe has been knocked for in the past.
Could Bryant get his supporting cast of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest to rise to the occasion and defeat the new beast from the east?
Could Kobe find the right balance between taking a game over while still keeping his teammates involved in the game?
Of course, when you want to be thought of the best ever to play the game you always seem to find a way to exceed everyone’s expectations of what is possible.
When he finally hangs up his low tops, Bryant may look back fondly to the 2010-2011 season as the time when his detractors had to finally concede he might very well be one of the best to ever play the game.
Bryant just might be the one player in the league that reaps the most benefits this free agency period if he can once again lead the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA championship.