The Los Angeles Lakers made big news today, coming to terms with franchise icon Kobe Bryant on a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension. The move means that Bryant will be a Laker for life, which was something both parties valued tremendously. Of course, Bryant is still working his way back from a torn Achilles’ he suffered at the end of last season, and it remains to be seen when he will return and at what level he can play at.
Given the risks surrounding this deal, Bryant’s age and the amount of cap space this uses heading into next summer, it is hard to say that this contract is anything other than an overpay from the Lakers. While I fully understand the P.R. value of getting a deal done with Bryant early and paying him superstar money, it is unlikely that it was necessary to pay him $24 million a year.
For starters, there remains the huge risk that Bryant will not be the same player. Personally, I believe that he will come back, take a little time to find his form and settle in at a level just below his stellar performance of last season. However, I certainly wouldn’t be willing to bet $48.5 million on that, and the Lakers shouldn’t either. If Bryant struggles to return to form, the Lakers could be left with huge contract and a player who just can’t live up to that amount of money.
Secondly, the Lakers have big plans for this summer, when they were going to have massive amounts of cap space. However, this extension, when combined with Steve Nash’s contract, means that the Lakers can only target one of the potential star free agent class of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It remains to be seen whether or not any of those players feels that teaming with an aging Bryant and Nash will be their best chance to win a title.
If the Lakers had waited until Bryant returned to sign an extension, then they would have ensured that they paid fair value. If he struggled, they could have paid him much less money, and if he was his old self, they would rest easy knowing he is worth a big contract. By signing a deal now, the Lakers are taking a huge gamble because of the unknown.
The reality is that not many 36 and 37 year old players are worth that kind of money, and there is a good chance that Bryant will be no exception. This contract extension is a good P.R. move, but from a financial and basketball perspective, the Lakers should have been more patient. It certainly looks like they overpaid Bryant with this contract, and the Lakers could regret it next summer.