I hate to keep tooting the Lakers’ horn (seeing as I hate them and all), but the most significant NBA story today is, by far, the announcement from Mitch Kupchak that they have come to an agreement to sign star player Kobe Bryant to a three-year contract extension. Kobe previously had an early-termination option for this year, which gave him the right to hit free agency come July 1 with the other big boys. Instead, Kobe — barring a blockbuster trade — will be playing his home games in the Staples Center through the 2013-2014 season.
Obviously, L.A. fans are thrilled by the news. They get to hold on to the player that propelled them to three titles to begin the decade and a fourth one to close it. He has never played anywhere except L.A., so obviously he’s a fan favorite.
This deal is just as good for the team. The last year of the extension coincides with those of Ron Artest and Pau Gasol’s contracts. So when Kobe’s 35 and will have inevitably suffered some losses to his on-court performance, the Lakers will have the opportunity to wildly slash payroll and make a play for the next big thing in four years.
However, was this really a great idea on Kobe’s part? Sure, he assures a mammoth paycheck for an additional three seasons. But what happens when the aging star has to renegotiate a deal then? It’s highly plausible he’ll have significant health issues to deal with at that time — particularly with his legs and knees, which have logged an absurd number of minutes in Bryant’s 15-or-so years in the league. Teams may be very hesitant to give him the big bucks if it no longer appears he can head a team like he has for so long.
If Kobe had waited until his deal expired, he could’ve started fresh. He only would have been 31 or 32 and very well could have stayed with the Lakers if he wanted to, but he would have had the option to go elsewhere, too. How is this better? There’s a big difference between Kobe’s physical condition now and what it will be in four years. With a new contract, he could have negotiated a more long-term deal (say six or even seven years) that would have assured his pay day for an additional two, three, or four years beyond what the extension assures.
Nevertheless, now he has his peace of mind. He doesn’t have to worry about the media frenzy in the offseason, and he can just focus on a championship. But Kobe may have just cut a few years off his storied career by signing that extension today.