Coast to Coast is my bi-weekly column here at Fansided. Each week I’ll be taking a look at an interesting topic in the NBA, and giving my own spin on it. Feel free to disagree, because you most likely will anyways.
Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, and the trajectory of the franchise was forever changed. Bryant has played 17 seasons for the Hornets, and he has become one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball on this planet. He brought them 5 rings, and he is the Hornets’ best player in their history.
Wait, that’s not right.
Just like in every great story, there was a plot twist on that fateful night in 1996. Kobe Bryant was traded from the Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac. Kobe’s agent at that time said that he was never going to play there, and the Hornets agreed to make the trade the day before. All of that doesn’t matter now, as Bryant was traded to the team that would define him for the next two decades.
Just 17 years old at the time, Bryant couldn’t even sign his own contract, and he needed his parents to cosign with him. GM Jerry West was taking a chance on a skinny kid with a fiery attitude, and that would be another gift that the logo would bless the Lakers with.
31,617 points, 6,575 rebounds, 5,887 assists, 45,390 minutes, and over 17 years later, Bryant has cemented his legacy as the greatest Laker ever, and one of the best players of all-time. On November 25th, 2013, Kobe Bean Bryant signed a 2 year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers, making him a Laker for life. For a guy who has said a lot over 17 years in LA, Bryant kept his message short and sweet:
The deal is worth 48.5 million dollars over 2 years, making Bryant the highest paid player in the NBA, and he will hold that title until he walks off the court for the final time. To me, he is worth every penny. Not only has he brought the Lakers 5 championships, but he has provided them with relevancy for the last 17 years. After Magic Johnson called it quits in the mid 90′s, the Lakers needed someone to step in his place to give them a chance to shine, and they were lucky enough to have Bryant fall in their lap.
The Lakers sold out 320 straight games, or just under 4 seasons in a row, but that streak ended on November 13th, and Kobe Bryant sitting on the sideline had everything to do with that. He brings them fans from all over the world, national TV appearances, and overall brings them a lot of money. When it comes to a historic franchise like the Lakers, losing is unacceptable, and Bryant has allowed them to avoid losing for a long time.
Sure, he’s had some speed bumps over the years. There was an incident in Colorado that isn’t favorable, he has feuded with guys like Shaq and Karl Malone, and he once said he’d rather play on Pluto than play for the Lakers. He has been known as a hot head, and his obsession for the game is borderline psychotic, and it has rubbed some people the wrong way. Phil Jackson’s most recent book touches on the fact that the young Kobe was tough to deal with.
If you want a sign that shows that the tides have turned for the player who once had one of the worst reputations in the league, look no further than Dwight Howard. Howard came to the Lakers last season, and the team was going to be his team once Bryant walked away. Howard left the Lakers this summer, and he cited Bryant as a main reason why. Instead of claiming that Bryant ran off an all-star center like many did in 2004, Howard was ridiculed for not being tough enough, and Bryant came out as the PR victor.
He has changed in many ways, and the fact that he isn’t a kid that came into a lot of money and fame anymore has a lot to do with it. Now, Bryant will lace them up for the final time in 2016, and he will leave a resume that is one of the best in history.
This extension is about loyalty, business, and a relationship that has blossomed over 2 decades. Bryant will retire with the Lakers after 20 years with the team, making him the longest tenured player with one team in NBA history. That is symbolic to a symbiotic relationship that has shaped the modern NBA.
The Lakers are heading into next summer with the most cap space in the league, and it has fans thinking that they can sign everyone out there and reload for the future. With Bryant now taking a lot of the cap space, it has some people questioning the move. It’s time to get real.
Who were the Lakers really signing next summer? LeBron isn’t coming to LA, Carmelo Anthony would be a bad idea, and there is no one else out there that is worth the max deal. The crazy idea that the Lakers would sign 2 max players was always insane. Now, they have room for one max player should they get a deserving candidate, and they could be in the hunt for 2015 if they don’t. They didn’t sign this without a plan for the long term, so expect the Lakers to show us that they knew what they were doing all along. Signing Kobe to a 2 year deal is a better option than signing Carmelo Anthony to a 4 year deal, or overpaying for someone else. In 2016, they will be in this same position, but they will have the satisfaction of settling the Kobe Bryant situation with class, and it made all sides happy.
The Lakers will be the Lakers when Kobe leaves, and those questioning the decision should use some perspective. Who were the Lakers going to get next summer? Should they stink next year without him and have no draft pick? Mitch Kupchak has always made good decisions, and they clearly have something up their sleeves. It also sends a message to all free agents that they take care of their own, and that loyalty means a lot to them.
In a league that is seeing a rise in players leaving their teams to chase rings, seeing Kobe Bryant finish with one team is refreshing. They made the right move by doing this.