Kobe’s Overseas Option Part III: The Italian Job?

Darius Soriano —  September 23, 2011

Turkey.

China.

Italy.

Kobe Bryant has been courted by the world during the NBA’s labor unrest and the latest offer from Italian Club Virtus Bologna is a doozy:

Kobe Bryant has been offered a $6.7 million, one-season contract to play for the Italian team Virtus Bologna, appealing to his childhood memories of growing up in the country…Virtus has given Bryant four contract options, stretching from the one-year deal to two-month and one-month options, and a per-game deal that would come out to $739,640 per home game.

On the surface, this is a win-win for #24. He can go back to a country he enjoyed in his youth, follow in the footsteps of his father, further enhance his global brand, and make a nice piece of coin in the process. If the only considerations were how to maximize the money going into his bank account, the reports would probably read “Kobe signs in Italy” rather than detailing the terms of the offer.

But those aren’t the only considerations; there are downsides here. The ever prescient Kelly Dwyer brings up a few good points about why Kobe wouldn’t want to go - citing family, wear and tear on is body, and his loyalty and connection to the Lakers as strong pulls to simply remain stateside and get ready for an NBA season.

This is not an easy choice but, ultimately, I see Kobe staying home. Beyond the reasons Dwyer lists, I simply don’t envision Kobe agreeing to join a full fledged league where he’d be competing every night for a team with larger goals than just trotting him out to fill an arena (though that’s obviously a part of why overseas teams want NBA players). This isn’t an exhibition game in the Phillipines or a glorified pick up game in a local summer pro-am. These games count and Kobe, even some don’t want to admit it, understands the fabric of a team and how a season is a process that a group goes through together in building towards a common goal. I simply can’t see him jumping into the fray with another team if it’s not a real commitment to help them. He’s already made that commitment to the Lakers and he has unfinished business with them from last season.

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Speaking of next season, the question still remains when we’ll actually see games being played.

It turns out, a bit later than scheduled. The NBA has announced that the league has cancelled 43 pre-season games and postponed the start of training camps. Of those 43 games, 3 were Lakers games: October 9th vs Golden State (Fresno, Ca), October 12th vs. Atlanta (Ontario, Ca), and October 15th vs. Atlanta (at Staples).

Pre-season games being missed doesn’t really concern me (I thought this tweet summed up how I feel about it) but I do feel bad for fans in Fresno and Ontario that don’t often get the chance to see the team in person and now have one of those few opportunities squashed by the league.

As for the real season, there is still some hope that the games will start on time. Ken Berger, in his summary of Thursday’s meetings, reports that there has been some movement by the owners and those steps towards the middle are important towards finding a resolution:

…what happened here actually had the potential to be productive. For the first time since their initial proposal in January 2010 — when they offered a $45 million hard cap that would deliver the players well below 50 percent of BRI — the owners proposed a revised BRI split that was closer to, but still below what the players have indicated they would be willing to accept. In this impossibly slow negotiating dance, that qualifies as progress.

The owners’ number, one of the people familiar with the details said, represented a willingness to move off their most recent formal proposal to cap player salaries at $2 billion a year for the bulk of a 10-year proposal. So, do the math: Assuming 4 percent revenue growth next season to $3.95 billion, the owners’ $2 billion proposal represented roughly 50.5 percent of BRI for the players. If the players were willing to go down to, say, 53 percent with assurances that a soft cap would remain in place, that would be $2.094 billion — leaving the two sides only $94 million apart in the first year of the deal.

Given that the owners moved off their $2 billion to somewhere between that and the players’ number, we’re talking about perhaps as little as $75 million per year holding up the future of the NBA. That’s why, as one person familiar with the talks said Thursday, a deal is “there for the taking.”

When will each side be ready to take it? Not yet. Not Thursday, and maybe not next week, either. The drop-dead date to preserve the season intact — Oct. 13 or 14 — is still three weeks away.

Darius Soriano

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12 responses to Kobe’s Overseas Option Part III: The Italian Job?

  1. I’m always a believer in money. If Kobe has a choice between making 6 million dollars and playing competitive organized basketball in a country he loves and making zero dollars not playing the game he loves I wonder what he chooses? It’s a no brainer. If the season doesn’t start on time Kobe is going to Italy or another country that offers him more. This isn’t rocket science.

  2. I think there’s another step Kobe can take in the evolution of his game: become a deadly 3 point shooter. Like 40 percent good. Have plays where he comes off the screen for a set 3. He’s not gonna get to 40% shooting contested ones.

  3. Plus he can have fun with Italian women.

    Just sayin’

  4. Who even knows. I can’t recall a point during this lockout season, when I’ve felt a greater sense of limbo. We could be poised for an agreement, we could be headed for the big plunge. I figure Kobe will keep the offer under consideration for a while. Can’t see him making a decision on Italy while the NBA is at a tipping point.

  5. I believe that when Kobe knows the season is not starting before December, he bolts to Italy and makes some money, and is playing some competitive basketball. Or, he may stay home and hone some skills to be used when the season does begin, but I do not see him sitting around doing nothing.

  6. What happens if he accepts it? If the NBA season starts, can he terminate the contract early?

  7. Dimitrie,
    Most of these overseas contracts will have an “out” clause that allows the player to terminate the deal once the NBA season starts. The only exception to this are the contracts in China where that league has outlawed out clauses for contracts signed by these players. That’s why the J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler contracts are big deals, they’ll be in China without any out clause to release them should the NBA come back. (That said, there have been rumors that there could be under the table agreements with these players that the team will cut them outright to allow them to return to the NBA and the China league commissioner wouldn’t be able to do anything about that.)

  8. I think he’ll end up not going, but knowing the answers to the following questions would be nice:

    Is winning another title absolutely the most important thing to Kobe right now, or would he rather take the opportunity to build his global brand?

    What does Kobe think his chances of winning another title will be considering that the Lakers will likely lose some of their advantages under the new CBA?

    Does he think the season will be completely lost?

    Does he think that he would gain an advantage by playing in Europe for a couple of months while the rest of the players aren’t playing organized ball?

    How healthy does he feel?

    Does he think that him going to Europe would put some pressure on the owners to resolve the contract situation?

  9. Kobe should just do it. He loves the country, there is good money involved and italian basketball probably needs him there to help build up the local league.
    Plus, its a different ball game over there, with more emphasis on team play, so he won’t be asked to hack and slash and run isos and stuff like that all the time. I bet he would have tons of mismatch and post-up opportunities, which should be lighter on the knees.

    On the other hand, I would rather have him resting his tired legs and wounded knees, perhaps playing his first injury-free season since Pau came along…

  10. From a recent Bill Simmons column, fwiw:

    I was told by Someone Who Knows that we need one month from “finished deal” to “signings/trades/training camp” to “we’re ready to start!” That means we’re missing games. If you gave me an over/under of January 15, I’m taking the over. Expect words like “contraction” and “merger” to start getting thrown around. The owners aren’t messing around. As Deep Throat once said, “Follow the money.” The owners paid $2.1 billion in salaries last year. They want to knock that number down by $500 million to $600 million annually while creating a harder cap … and really, they don’t care how they get there. If the players want a bigger share of revenue, fine — the league will dip from 30 to 27 teams, and with 45 fewer players getting paid, the players can have a bigger share of the revenue. The owners are chopping that $2.1 billion figure down one way or the other. Even if it means canceling the 2011-12 season.

  11. #10. I find that interesting considering the owners’ current proposal essentially froze player salaries at $2 billion anually. Plus, every report that I’ve read has said the league will only need 10-14 days to turn a handshake agreement on the general terms into a fully ratified agreement with all the smaller details integrated.

    As an aside, Simmons also quoted “people in the know” when he said that a Bynum/Bosh deal was done and that it would happen before the start of last season. There’s a reason that Simmons isn’t a reporter for ESPN and is instead a columnist that writes opinion pieces. I don’t doubt that he has legitimate “sources” but he’s also not the type to hunt down multiple sources that will confirm what he wants to “report” like Marc Stein will (for example). Simmons admitted as much in a story he wrote where he detailed how he got wind of the Randy Moss to the Patriots trade several years ago but didn’t act on it because of ESPN’s multiple source policy (basically, ESPN says you need a story confirmed by 2 sources before you can go on the air/print a story on it).

    I know you’re not necessarily defending him or promoting his take on this as fact (at least that’s how I’m interpreting the fwiw caveat) but I just wanted to give a bit of background to Simmons as a forecaster of events.