Laker For Life

Darius Soriano —  April 7, 2010

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Earlier today, Phillip put together a great post on what it’s been like following Kobe Bryant’s career with the Lakers.  And while I think he summed up many of the feelings and experiences that a lot of Lakers fans have had, the first point that he made is the one that should be repeated over and over again – us Lakers’ fans are extremely lucky to have this player on our team.  Through all the ups and downs, we’ve seen one of the NBA’s all time greats lace up his sneakers and perform for the team that we follow every day.  Not every team gets a Kobe or Duncan or Larry or Magic or Jordan.  And those that do get them may not even get them for their entire careers as trades and free agency have moved us into a different era in terms of the athlete/team dynamic.  Guys just don’t stay with the same teams anymore.  But, with Kobe’s contract extension, we’re likely to get that priveledge.  Barring something completely unforeseen Kobe Bryant will be a Laker for life.  And I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way.  This is a player that has given us too many memories – from the lob, to all the game winners, to the 81 point game, to the championships…I could go on and on.  He is the modern image of what it is to be a Laker and for that there aren’t enough words to describe how happy I am that Kobe will likely never wear another NBA uniform.

That said, Kobe’s contract is one that we should look at closely.  Because even though he’s an all world talent and a player that makes the Lakers a lot of money by packing arenas and boosting merchandise sales, this contract affect how the team can do business between the lines of the court.  Due to the NBA’s salary cap rules, every contract affects a team’s ability to fill out the roster.  Every dollar spent on one player is, theoretically, a dollar that will make it tough to sign another player that will help you win.  We know this from some of the contracts that currently sit on the Lakers’ payroll.  So the first step is to look at what Kobe’s contract is actually worth.  When the news broke that Kobe signed a contract extenstion, the commonly tossed out value of the contract was $90 million dollars.  Sure, reports said that Kobe’s contract “could be worth up to” that amount, but it was assumed that the “maximum” value is what Kobe received.  The fact is, though, that Kobe’s deal is worth a bit less.  The actual dollar figure is a shade over $83.5 million.  And the yearly breakdowns look like this:

Year 1: $25,244,493
Year 2: $27,849,149
Year 3: $30,453,805

When I read the report that Kobe’s contract would be worth a bit less than the max, I reached out to Larry Coon (the CBA and salary cap expert who created this magnficent site where so many of my questions have been answered) to ask him about the value of Kobe’s contract and what possibly went into the decision making to come to this exact figure.  Below is what Larry told me about Kobe’s extension:

It’s NOT the maximum he could have received. The max started at 110.5% of his 2010-11 salary but would have been amended down to 105% of his 2010-11 salary. The salary in the first year of an extension can’t exceed the maximum salary — which in Kobe’s case is 105% of his previous salary.

It appears he got almost exactly the same amount over four years from the Lakers as he would have made by opting-out in 2010 and signing with another team. So yes, he left money on the table. The Lakers clearly weren’t going to bid against themselves.

The second point that Larry made is key one, in my opinion.  Yes the Lakers have made Kobe one of the highest paid athletes ever.  His salary in the final year of his contract will be only the second time an NBA player has made $30 million in a single season.  But, it also looks like the Lakers did not give him the maximum dollars that he could have earned because they did not give him the full raises from year to year that they (and they alone) could have given.  As Larry said, it looks like the Lakers were not going to bid against themselves (something that the Orlando Magic did with the Rashard Lewis contract two seasons ago) because they gave him pretty much exactly what he could have gotten if he’d opted out after this season and signed with a different team.  This fact enables Kobe to make a boat load of cash, while also saving the Lakers about $7 million (or so) over the life of the contract.  That may not seem like a lot, but for a team that will be deep into the luxury tax, every extra bit matters.

But enough about the structure of the deal (if you crave more, read what Larry Coon wrote for the NY Times in his excellent break down of the financial details).  I think we all want to discuss how this affects the Lakers long term spending and their ability to surround their core players with enough talent to compete.  Looking at the Lakers payroll figures, there are only 6 players under contract (including Kobe) in the 2011-12 season (the first of Kobe’s contract extension).  Those six players are Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom, Artest, and Walton.  The combined salary of those 6 players will be about $80 million.  For comparison’s sake, the total payroll for this season is $91.3 million.  Also consider that a team must have at least 10 players on their roster, per league rules.  Most teams carry at least 12, and the Lakers carried 13 this season.  That means that the Lakers, in the first year of Kobe’s extnsion, will likely need to fill out their roster with 7 additional players.  Now, some of those players will come from the draft (the Lakers have 2 second round picks in the upcoming draft and have a first round pick in next year’s draft) and there will be free agent signings between now and then.  We must also consider that there may be a trade (or trades) that impact the make up of the roster and how many players the Lakers have under contract.  But, as it stands now, the core of this team are the 5 big money players on the roster (or our best 5) and Luke Walton.

So, how will this team fill out it’s roster and still compete?  I think the answer to this question is two fold.  First, the Lakers obviously need to make smart personnel decisions for the foreseeable future.  And to start out, that means drafting well.  Over the years, Mitch Kupchak has had reasonably good success in the draft, especially considering he’s often picking in the latter stages of the first or second round.  I mean, Mitch drafted Walton (who, despite any opinion of his contract, is a contributing player), Turiaf, Farmar (who is a good player, though is proving to be a mismatched fit in our current system), and then there were guys like Crittenton and Von Wafer that have had their moments in this league (but have had their careers thrown off track by off court or attitude concerns).  The one time that Mitch has been in the lottery, the draft yielded Andrew Bynum.  All of these players are or have been solid contributors to teams in the league, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Mitch has an eye for talent.  My point is, Mitch will need to have a similar success rate (or better) if the Lakers hope to build around this very talented core and it will all start with the  relatively inexpensive talent that the draft provides.

The second part of figuring out how the Lakers are going to build around their core is determining what Jerry Buss’ spending limit is.  The figure $100 million (for combined salary and luxury tax) has been thrown out in the past, but the Lakers are above that threshold this season.  So the question is, how much higher will he go?  Will the Lakers sign a player for the MLE this off-season?  With needs at PG and also (potentially) at back up SF and/or PF they may have to.  What about the year after that?  And if there is the chance to pick up a good player but it involves taking on salary, will the Lakers do that?  Currently, these are questions that none of us have answers to and won’t have for sometime.  Even speculating about it is pointless because Dr. Buss rarely shows his hand early unless his mind is made up, and even then it all may be a bluff (the man is a poker player, after all).

So, at this point, we know that Kobe will be a Laker, he’ll have some very talented teammates, and the front office will have to find ways to fill out the roster cheaply but with capable players.  This is not the easiest task, but it’s not impossible either.  And in the end, I’m quite happy having one of the most talented (at least at the top) rosters in the NBA and going into battle with those guys leading the charge.  And it all starts with #24 – a fact I couldn’t be happier about.

Darius Soriano

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36 responses to Laker For Life

  1. Is this a “draft speculation” thread?

  2. kupchak made an interesting comment about his selection of 2nd rounder chinemelu elonu last year. the gist of it is that they’d projected the pf/c to be a lottery pick had he played another year.

    so, i wonder if kupchak is going to draft for value this year, or draft for position.

    i also wonder if he’ll draft a seasoned upperclassman who can potentially contribute right away, or if he’ll select a player a year or two away from potentially cracking the rotation.

    in any case, my favorite prospect is avery bradley, a freshman pg out of Texas.

    here’s his draftexpress profile

    http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Avery-Bradley-5285

  3. Does anyone know if Kobe’s extension still includes a No-Trade Clause?

  4. Kobe’s contract does contain a No Trade clause. This is probably something Kobe absolutely demanded if he was going to sign less than a max contract.

  5. It does, it carried over from the previous contract; Kobe is still the only player in the league with a No-Trade Clause.

  6. The competitor inside Mr. Bean will allow him to think he can play past the age of 36. I think it is likely that he might play for another organization other than LA after his contract is up. M. Jordan played for the Wizards after Chicago, six rings, so it would not surprise me to see old #24 sprinting down the court for another squad in the future.

  7. Kobe not only has the only no-trade clause in the NBA, I believe he’s the only player in the league eligible for one. I don’t remember the exact specifics, but he’s somehow grandfathered in as the last player left to play his entire career with one team and was active before some provision or other of the CBA was implemented, otherwise Tim Duncan (among others) would also be eligible.

  8. I don’t know if anyone has thoughts or facts that would be able to answer these questions, but do we know how the money side of the organization would change if Dr. Buss steps down? Are Jeanie and the boys (Jim and Joey?)of the same mindset? Would they carry the team in a similar manner, spending-wise?

  9. Crittenton is a free agent this summer, do you think he might be able to contribute at our PG position needs? I’m sure there won’t be any high bidding going on so he could probably be had on the cheap.
    obviously, someone in the Org saw potential in the guy, and when we traded him, it was in the Pau deal, and I don’t think Mitch wanted to let him go, but for Pau…
    then his time with the Bullets, er, um, the Wizards, I don’t think he’s really had a chance to show what he’s capable of.
    thoughts???
    and don’t bite my head off, OK?

    I remember back when Jamal Crawford was with the Knicks and being shopped, I said he’d be a good fit and I got my head chewed off by ol’ John R, (you FB&G old timers here will remember him), anyway, would ya like to have him now?

  10. 9, If we had Jamal Crawford instead of Derek Fisher, we would probably win like, 5 championships in a row.

  11. Discussions of the effect his contract has needs to include the salary cap. If they hadn’t re-signed him, they still wouldn’t have been able to sign anyone else (other then with the MLE.) So with or without Kobe they are limited to draft choices, trades, and the MLE.

  12. Chris,
    the difference is Crawford has been a productive NBA player on bad teams in the past. Some short sighted people thought because he put up a lot of shots (and bad shots) on bad teams he wouldn’t change his game with a good team. With J Critt… he hasn’t been able to play on even bad teams.

  13. A bit off-topic, but I read in Hoopsworld http://www.hoopsworld.com/Chat.asp?CHAT_TOPICS_ID=880 that one reporter (alex Kennedy) seems to have “noticed” that Pau and Kobe have some sort of ‘rift’, that they aren’t speaking before, during and after games:

    “I have thought for some time that something is wrong between Kobe and Pau. When they came through Orlando, they didn’t say a word to each other and during both pregame and postgame availability, they weren’t in the same room once. Most contending teams are close and the locker rooms show that. If you walk into the locker rooms of Orlando, Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, etc. you’ll see a tight knit group that is joking and together. With the Lakers, there wasn’t much communication, the team didn’t seem close, and there was no interaction between the two best players. I don’t know about Kobe and Phil, I haven’t seen or heard anything to suggest a rift there but I know what I saw between Gasol and Bryant.”

    Any truth or rumors of this kind? Kinda disturbing for our team, and reminds me of 2004

  14. The only thing I would say to that is look to Kobe’s extension. He knows Pau just got signed long term. If there was any “huge” concern about not being able to work together, I don’t think he’d have resigned. The fact that he did tells me there isn’t a problem, and if there is, its small enough that it’s gonna get brushed over without much worry.

  15. Not to break this great thread here, but I bring you news around the league:

    – Don Nelson is sitting pretty with the title “Winningest Coach of All Time”.
    – Curry makes his push for ROY (27 points, points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds, 7 steals).
    – Manu Ginobili (doubt it) is close to signing an extension.
    – My boy, Darko puts up 16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block.
    – The Nets, after scoring 38 points (wow! The Nets! 38 points!) on the 1st quarter, gets 20, 17, 14 on the last 3. That’s 51 points in 36 minutes (which is good enough for 24), care of the Bucks.

  16. I don’t know, but I don’t think personal rifts really matter, no matter how large, when there are tens of millions on the table.

    But I’m not too worried about chemistry, since we know that chemistry is overrated. I mean, Shaq and Kobe weren’t exactly best of friends when they won their championships!

    Still, as a fan, I would like for them to get along and enjoy playing with and off of each other. Such joy will help them be extra energized and stay fresher.

  17. 16) – Enjoyment may be what is missing from this team all around. It just doesn’t seem like these guys are having fun. It could be the gargantuan expectations they carry around on their shoulders. It could be the distractions that just come with playing for the Lakers. Either way, it doesn’t seem too fun for these guys as of late.

    To be fair, those 90s Bulls teams didn’t seem to have much fun either. They were lkie cold blooded businessmen. Maybe that is the mark of multiple title winning teams. They are well beyond the giddy, group hug stuff.

    Pau and Kobe are two the best in the world. And they respect each other as such. As long as that’s there they will be fine.

  18. I know I’m gonna be alone on this argument, but I think signing Kobe to this extension was a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kobe and love the idea of him staying a Laker for the rest of his career but from a competitive standpoint it didn’t make any sense. The timing just didn’t seem right, especially with our team brutally struggling lately, why not wait till the end of the season.

    If we were to win the championship this season, there’s no way Kobe would opt out and of course giving him the money would be warranted. But if we don’t win it, I think that would prove that this team formulated as is can’t win it. With the big free agent summer of 2010 looming this would actually give the Lakers some leverage over Kobe for once. Bottom line with signing Kobe to this huge contract now, we are going to ride or die with this group and can’t really improve the team very much.

  19. #18. Rudy,
    I’m unsure as to how the Lakers would have any leverage over Kobe because of the FA class of this upcoming summer. Even if Kobe were to opt out after this season the Lakers would be over the cap and would not be able to sign any FA outside of using the MLE (as exhelodrvr states in #11). Kobe was the last unsigned piece of what they obviously feel like is the core (5 players) of a championship contender for seasons to come. Time will tell whether or not that turns out to be true, but there were no other cards to play except signing Kobe. Not after all the other pieces were locked up.

  20. This is a great piece on TH, one of the best I’ve seen on there in a while:

    http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/14779/to-young-players-playing-time-is-oxygen

    Drafting is going to be so critical. Buss, with all the steps he’s taken, should be immune from criticism. But I really hope he doesn’t sell off any more draft picks, because we don’t want to find ourselves in the Suns’ plight a few years ago. It’s absolutely crucial that Mitch hits a few home runs because we’ll need strong role players on rookie contracts, with the huge contracts that we have.

    Another (less appealing) option is mining the D-League occasionally. I’ve long felt we would have been better off keeping Coby Karl as a cheap replacement for Sasha, and letting Sasha go. I liked the things Karl did in his limited time here (maybe not defensively, but otherwise) and think he could have contributed off the bench.

    But the point isn’t to speculate on players now, the point is that we’ll likely see a lot of the D-league and draft (and vets for the minimum) on our team in the next 4-5 years. It’s going to really be a test of our front office’s ability to find hidden gems, if we’re to stay at our best even as our core ages.

  21. I’ll offer to play for the league minimum. I can come off the bench. I am a great practice player and have no ego. I’ll be all about cheering for awesome shots and pump my arms up in the air after every win ala AMMO.

    I am a point guard, my defense is suspect, i have no 3 point shot, but I can run the triangle pretty well on NBA 2K10. I’ll fit right in to this year’s point guard crew.

  22. I can play for less than the minimum.

    I can give 6 hard fouls ;)

    As hard as anyone 5-10 and 160lbs can give, but considering that our weak link is the point, I can give 6 hard fouls to the opposing PG.

    Mmm.

  23. A quick question for long-time Laker watchers: if Shaq doesn’t come to the Lakers in 1996, do the Lakers still draft Kobe?

    The timing is a little messed up, since the draft happened before the Shaq deal was announced, but my impression was that Jerry Buss was pretty confident that he could sign Shaq, at least enough to trade away Vlade Divac for Charlotte’s draft pick (a gamble in itself) which was used to select Kobe.

    (I was thinking about this in terms of Buss’ ownership and the history of the Lakers. If Shaq doesn’t decide to come to the Lakers, it could have meant no Kobe, and it surely meant no Phil Jackson. Maybe the Lakers grab some other FA, but things would have been very different.)

  24. Harold. I could possibly give 6 hard fouls, but I am not entirely confident that I could actually reach any of the players in time to foul them.

  25. Im still upset that Kobe didn’t get a chance to compete against Shaq for the title when he was in Miami. Easily would’ve been the greatest rivalry since Bird and Magic.

    If only Kobe would’ve gotten a top 2-3 big the following year…

  26. 20, the good thing is that we’re set in the front court, since bigs are naturally more rare than smalls. Having to mine the D-League and draft for skilled guards won’t be nearly as difficult as finding a big to fill in the front court rotation, so I’m confident that even if the salary cap continues to crush this team, we’ll be able to accrue enough salary in MLE vets and min salary D-Leaguers and draftees to be able to supplement our team for the next 3 years or so.

    That being said, Mitch is going to have to be smart with the expiring contracts of our top guys. Otherwise we’re going to look like the 98-99 Bulls after Kobe retires.

  27. Darius, any chance of a post considering which team among POR-OKC-SAN we match up best and worst with? Those three are currently in a dead heat for the 6-7-8 spot in the west. Personally, I think OKC would be easiest for us, then POR, then SAN.

  28. Enochemery,

    I don’t think anyone would disagree with OKC being the prefered matchup.

  29. This extension means nothing to me if the Lakers don´t win at least one more championship. Kobe can play for 10 more seasons in LA, but if he doesn´t win it means nothing. This team has got to turn it around.

  30. Chownoir (was J) April 8, 2010 at 8:59 am

    I’ve been a big proponent of a summer invite for Javaris ever since the Arenas incident. I think it’s a high reward low risk deal. He’s not going to get a lot of offers due to perceived baggage. LA could be very appealing as the team that drafted him and knows how his skills fit and knowing that playing time is there for him if he does well.

    I completely disagree with the notion that he couldn’t play even on bad teams. In Memphis he was stuck in a log jam and victim of numbers. Memphis was committed to Conley despite his struggles. They traded Lowrey and Javaris. Lowrey immediately had success in Houston.

    Javaris was a solid contributor at Wash once he got there and before he got injured. Averaged 20 minutes in 56 games, started 10, shot 46% from the field and had a 2-1 assists to TO ratio. Sure his numbers weren’t eye popping. But if the topic at hand is filling the roster with solid contributing role players that come cheap, I think he’s a prime candidate to take a chance on. Especially at a position the Lakers need.

    Lakers need a guard that can run the triangle, be steady and understand defensive principles. Javaris has the potential. Is he a savior? No. Is he a lock? No. But getting a potential rotation guy for a training camp invite? There is absolutely no downside to going after him hard in the offseason and asking him to come to camp or heck maybe even offering a small partial guarantee. Is he really any worse than mining the D league? If he strikes out, no big deal, but the potential reward is way too high for the low risk.

  31. #27. enochemery,
    Your same question was posed to several folks recently by the K-Bros over at Land O’ Lakers. I had my input as did Kurt, Kevin Arnovitz, Kevin Ding, and others. You find the post here.

    So you know, I said I’d rather have the Lakers face the Spurs, then the Thunder, then the Blazers. I know some people (like Yusuf) would rather face the Thunder and there’s good arguments to be made on all sides of this. Really, the West playoffs are going to be a minefield and I don’t know if there really is a team I’d like the Lakers to face and I do think all the teams are rather close.

    If you want my reasoning for picking the Spurs, it has to do with matchups. Assuming that Bynum is back, the Lakers have multiple bodies to throw at Duncan (‘Drew/Pau) and Ginobili (Artest/Kobe). Meanwhile, the Spurs front court doesn’t have the depth to guard Pau & Bynum and they especially don’t have anyone to guard Odom. And they’re short on wing defenders as well and that means that guys like Bogans, Hill, and Mason are going to see a lot of minutes on Kobe. You combine these match up advantages with the fact that the Spurs are an older team that is not that athletic and I think this series tilts in the Lakers’ favor. As for Parker/Hill, sure that’s going to be a problem and the Lakers will just have to deal with that. But if you’re looking at the Thunder, Westbrook will be a problem too and I really think that Durant (even if Artest hounds him for the entire series) has at least one (and probably 2 or more) stand out performances in him. You add that to Sefalosha – who does a very good job on Kobe – and all their other athletes and the fact that they’re a very good defensive team overall and I have them as a slightly (emphasis on slightly) tougher challenge than the Spurs. But it probably is a toss up and you can find a bunch of reasons – experience being a major one – to move the Spurs ahead of OKC as being more dangerous. All I know is that we’ve lost to both by double digits in the past couple of weeks so neither are cake walks.

  32. HUURRAYYY!! Today is the day that I’ve been waiting for! Bynum said that he’d be back for this Nugget game a couple weeks ago and I knew that he and his youthful body would hold to that. WHAT?… Doctors say he still can’t run or walk? Phil said he’s gonna need time to get back in shape? His body doesn’t heal quickly from injury? Well, that ruined my day… Unless we could some how beat the Nuggets without him. Its a long shot but there’s always a chance! WHAT? The Lakers have been playing terrible against good teams when it matters? (You get the point. Here’s to playing tough, efficient basketball in agame that lots of people think we’re going to lose.)

  33. Wow really Bynum can’t even WALK yet?

  34. The deal for Kobe didn’t have much to do with signing Shaq.

    West was afraid that he wouldn’t be successful and Jerry Buss had to give him the high sign to ‘go for broke’ and support him strongly during the process.

    There were all kinds of stories floating around in JUN-JUL 96 about how the Lakers were really stupid in trading their starting center before there was any guarantee that Shaq would sign. People thought this was a desperate and poorly managed team and Jerry West was over the hill.

  35. No morning links today, but you do get some random thoughts from your’s truly. Game preview will be up a bit later in the afternoon.

    http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2010/04/08/fast-break-thoughts-62/

  36. yusuf, kobe had kwame. i mean, come on! who else do you need to win a title? he even had smush parker running the point! kobe was just a ballhog back then and ruined that dynasty of greatness…