There's an old maxim when tragedy strikes that goes "if it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all." That accurately characterizes the Los Angeles Lakers' situation after this week's injury to Kobe Bryant in the third quarter of Tuesday's game against Memphis. He played the last quarter, oblivious to the fact that he had suffered a fracture to his left knee. He had only played six games this season prior to the injury. Bryant had yet to recover from an Achilles' tendon injury that occurred.
Bryant had yet to regain the explosive dominance he was known for in the short time back. He was in the process of working to get his rhythm and timing back prior to the injury, which will keep him out of action for an estimated six weeks. The injury has reignited the controversy surrounding the two-year $48.5 million extension that the Lakers signed him to prior to the season. Knowing that the Achilles' is an extremely difficult injury to fully recover from, why did the Lakers offer him that contract?
Kobe has played for 17 seasons and is 35 years old. Coach Phil Jackson had a strategy to preserve him by not having him play 48 minutes, but last season Kobe insisted on playing every minute possible. The wear and tear on a 35-year-old body has been extensive. Kobe may have done Superman-type feats, but he does not have a superhuman body. The odds of continuing injury at his age are very high. He may never come close to the amazing performer he has been.
His cap numbers are $30 million this year followed by $23.5 million for 2014/15 and $25 million for 2015/16 and the contract is fully guaranteed. That cap hit remains whether he is able to play or not. Depending on whether Pau Gasol is traded or Steve Nash retires, this narrows the options for the next few years. The young Lakers seemed to be playing with more energy and effectiveness prior to Kobe's return -- there was a tendency to sit back and watch on the part of younger players these last six games. Kobe is very strong-willed and wants the ball and may not accept the fact that his game won't be the same. As brilliant as he has been, he has overridden coach and organization directives at times Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard both had problems co-existing with Kobe and this may scare away potential free agents.
The cap may allow for the signing of one superstar and a mid-level player next summer but the real need is to rebuild. So why did the Lakers, a team that has never accepted less than winning the NBA Championship, limit their options this way.
One motivating factor for extending was the desire to recognize Kobe's unbelievably productive career, all spent in Los Angeles. The organization was in a no-win situation. Had they let the contract run out and sent Kobe on his way, they would have been heavily criticized for shabby treatment of an icon. Los Angeles is a trendy area of the country which demands STARS to hold their interest. Kobe has been that charismatic shining star. He was the leader who brought multiple championships to Los Angeles.
Some of the rationale was economic. The Lakers are the economic miracle of the NBA -- the most profitable franchise. They charge outrageously high prices for tickets, from the floor to the rafters and make a fortune. The team sold out for ten straight years until this season. If the team is not going to be dominant, local fans want to see a SUPERSTAR. Kobe deserves major credit for the willingness of Time Warner to offer a 20-year local television deal that will pay the Lakers THREE BILLION DOLLARS, an unheard of sum. The organization may feel that they need Kobe to sustain ratings.
One thing is for sure, the glamor franchise of the NBA for years, the Los Angeles Lakers, are heading into an uncertain and murky future.