For Kobe Bryant, less is never more.
Still working his way back from a ruptured Achilles injury and facing the prospect of leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a lottery berth once he does, one would expect the importance of next summer to resonate with the Black Mamba.
Steve Nash is the only player on the books leading into the 2014-15 season, meaning the Lakers will have $50-plus million worth of cap space to burn through. Naturally, they will use that money to chase a max superstar or two, like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade. That’s been the plan all along.
Imagine a Lakers team headed by two superstars in their prime, an old but crafty Steve Nash and a Kobe and Pau Gasol who have taken steep pay cuts to remain in Los Angeles beyond next season. Think of the possibilities, of what the team could do, of how far they could go.
Then forget about it, because Kobe apparently won’t be accepting any pay reductions.
Speaking with Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, Kobe made it clear that he has no intention of taking less money in free agency next summer:
I’m not taking any at all – that’s the negotiation that you have to have.” Kobe Bryant told Lakers Nation in an exclusive interview at his Kobe Basketball Academy on Wednesday. For me to sit here and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to take a huge pay cut. Nah, I’m going to try to get as much as I possibly can.
If Kobe said anything of the sort in the Lakers’ pitch to Dwight Howard, I’m not surprised he’s now a member of the Houston Rockets.
Really, that’s some tough talk for a guy pushing 35, who has no idea how effective he’ll be once he comes back from his current injury. But that’s also just Kobe. We wouldn’t expect him to say anything else right now.
For the Lakers’ sake, hopefully that changes.
Hollywood isn’t going to win another championship by giving Kobe a four-year, $100 million contract, or something along those lines, next season. In the age of superteams, the Lakers need to build one. Next summer, they have the opportunity to do just that, one that becomes much easier to actualize if Kobe is willing to pull a Dirk Nowitzki and take a pay cut.
By the end of next season, Kobe will have earned more than $279 million for his career. Asking him to play for less in the name of winning, for the sake of a championship, doesn’t seem like much, because it isn’t. If Kobe wants a viable shot at that sixth ring, or at winning seven more, he’ll take that pay cut. And he’ll take it with a smile on his face, reminiscent of the one Howard himself would be wearing when doing his latest impersonation.
He has no other choice. If he wants to win, making room for other players, for others stars is a necessity. The only way to do that is by sacrificing some of his earning potential, in favor of playing alongside those younger superstars.
Will he ultimately do it, play for less than he’s worth?
My gut tells me yes. This is Kobe, after all. I truly believe winning is all that truly matters to him at this point.
Coming off a lottery-bound or early playoff-exit campaign like the one the Lakers appear destined for next season, Kobe will feel compelled to take the pay cut he seems so averse to now. Unless, of course, the idea of signing with another team and/or toiling in mediocrity for the remainder of his days seems appealing to him. Because that’s what the Lakers will be if he doesn’t open his arms and own wallet—mediocre.
You can count on that just as much as you can count on Kobe himself.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.