There have been myriad questions surrounding the Achilles of Kobe Bryant, when he’s going to make his return, and how effective he’s going to be after the return. A lot of pundits believe that the success of this Lakers season will depend on whether or not Bryant can come back at the level he was playing last season.
However, his recovery extends far beyond this season as Bryant is in the last year of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent next season. If Bryant is back and playing at a high level, he’ll go into his contract negotiations with much more leverage than if he comes back at a significantly lower level.
Bryant can receive a five precent increase on the $30.45 million he’s slated to make this season if he receives the full maximum deal next summer, but it’ll put the Lakers in a bad financial situation as that would be nearly half of the expected $62.5 million cap the league will place on teams in the 2014-15 season. A lot is yet to be determined before Bryant becomes a free agent in nine months, and that’s likely why the Lakers and their superstar still haven’t opened up negotiations.
Bryant is entering the last nine months of his contract, a season worth $30.45 million before he can become a free agent in July.
He has known only one team in his 17-year career and often says he’ll be a Laker for life, but will that be the case?
The Lakers haven’t opened contract negotiations with Bryant, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, taking a wait-and-see approach as he recovers from his injury.
For the Lakers, it will be ideal if they can work out a deal past this season with Bryant before the season is over as it will increase the teams financial flexibility heading into the summer of 2014 where a plethora of high profile free agents are set to hit the market.
If Bryant goes into this summer without a new deal, there will be cap holds worth Bryant’s deal on the Lakers, making it harder for them to go after any free agents. It is expected that the Lakers will try to get Bryant at a reduced rate — somewhere in the $10-15 million range to bring in a marquee free agent to take over for Bryant after he retires.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol is in the same boat with the team, but his situation is a bit different as he’s still going to be involved in trade discussions through the deadline this season. His $19.2 million expiring contract is something that other franchises will covet, especially considering who will be a free agent this off season.
It remains to be seen what the Lakers will do with their two biggest free agents this off season (the first and seventh highest contracts in the NBA this season), but the negotiations will begin at some point during the season.
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