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Lakers’ GM says franchise still can build contender around Kobe

Nov 26, 2013, 5:26 PM EDT

kobe mitch Getty Images

Nobody who knows the Lakers questions if signing Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension is a good business move. Kobe Bryant is worth three times that to the franchise — he fills arena, and more importantly the high priced seats and luxury boxes, with loyal fans. For two years after this the Lakers will sell out at home and be a huge draw on the road (and draw ratings that justify their massive local television deal).

But is it a deal that allows the Lakers to still build a contender around Bryant?

While there are those who questions the flexibility it really leaves the Lakers (and I’m in that group, I think they can be good but not contend for a title) Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told the media Tuesday this deal will allow them to compete for a title (quotes via a transcript of the press conference on Lakers.com).

Do the Lakers have the flexibility to build a team that win a title with Kobe still?

“I think we do, I think we do. The challenge is there. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t make it any easier for anybody. It’s restrictive and challenging, but yes, I do believe we can.”

Why do the deal now, why not wait until summer?

“Clearly, we had options to wait till the summer, which creates a lot of other kinds of challenges when you’re in an open market. We could have waited two, three or four weeks from now, and now you’re negotiating during the season with the player and that’s never a good thing, either. We just felt after a month or so of discussion, looking at what this may do to us in the summer in terms of our cap and our plans, and without going into great detail, we do maintain flexibility. The uncertainty of the summer is behind us now. We know we have Kobe in the fold for this year and two more years. The negotiation went pretty smoothly in terms of arriving at a number that as reported makes him the highest paid player in the league next year, the year after and of course this year as well. As I mentioned, we continue to have flexibility during the offseason not knowing what may take place during the offseason with these free agents. People continue to look at the offseason as the year to get a free agent, which is true. But for financial flexibility, it (helps) in a lot of ways in terms of making deals, so we do maintain that as well.”

Was this a business move or a basketball move?

“There’s really nothing that we do that isn’t a combination of a business and basketball decision. You have to ensure the franchise continues to grow and prosper. Then there’s the basketball side of it, which I’ve understood as well as anything. ‘Do you want to win?’ (Dr. Jerry Buss) wasn’t afraid to make a financial decision or business decision, but you can always kind of tell where everybody kind of knew he wanted to win also. Both are factors.”

As they should be. That doesn’t mean they are equally balanced.

That said Kupchak has been one of the smartest, craftiest GMs in the business for a long time. When you count him out, he makes what seems a smart move (even the Dwight Howard trade, despite how it turned out). Bet against him at your own risk.

But he is in an especially tight space now.

  1. JHathwell - Nov 26, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    I think allot of people are getting this wrong, that is to say I think there is way too much talk about the cap space and not enough about Jimmy Buss spending 100m last year and 90 this year.

    Basically, everyone is making assumptions based on the cap and I have a feeling that the Lakers are going to go into balls out mode to make Kobe’s last two years here count.

    Call it a hunch, but the team is making a ton of money and I just have this feeling like they are going to pull out all the stops this summer. The key, of course, will be how much Buss stays out of Mitch’s way and lets him do his thing.

  2. jcmeyer10 - Nov 26, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    *Intern whispers details of Repeat Offender Status in new CBA rules to him* *Kupchak goes pale*

    • JHathwell - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:11 PM

      I think you lack a grasp of the lakers finances.

      • bucrightoff - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:46 PM

        I don’t think anyone, regardless of how rich they are, want to be paying $100 million a season in luxury taxes that escalate.

      • JHathwell - Nov 26, 2013 at 7:14 PM

        Tell that to prokhorov.

        Anyway, I don’t think Jimmy will go that crazy, I just think people need to adjust their thinking on this. I keep seeing Kurt and Larry Coon and a bunch of other writers carrying on as if they only have 28m to spend after Kobe and I really think that’s not the case. What I see is a team that will use all their cap space, use the Bird rights to retain everyone of value from this years team (Hill, Meeks, Blake and/or Farmar) and might even try to flip their 2014 #1 for someone that can help now.

      • Kurt Helin - Nov 27, 2013 at 7:55 PM

        The Lakers cannot use their $22 million in cap space AND Bird rights on Hill, Meeks, Blake etc. The way the salary cap works is for every free agent you have on your team you have a cap hold for 105% of what they made last season. You can’t use that cap space until you renounce your rights to said player or he signs with another team. The only way the Lakers have $22 million is to renounce all those guys then they cannot bring them back.

      • JHathwell - Nov 27, 2013 at 8:42 PM

        Im aware of what a cap hold is. Have no idea where you are getting this 22m figure, especially when we are about 7 months out from the Summer of ’14.

      • jcmeyer10 - Nov 27, 2013 at 9:04 AM

        I think it would take a lot of jerseys to make that luxury tax money back.

      • JHathwell - Nov 27, 2013 at 3:25 PM

        Jerseys?

        Look. Go Google “Lakers new television contract” and get back to me.

    • spursareold - Nov 27, 2013 at 9:56 AM

      I think you lack a grasp of the CBA.

      • jcmeyer10 - Nov 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM

        They are going to be repeat offenders for 2+ years when the money is 2 dollars for every dollar over? I may have the math wrong but it still isn’t chump change.

      • spursareold - Nov 27, 2013 at 10:08 AM

        That wasn’t a response to you, jc.

      • jcmeyer10 - Nov 27, 2013 at 10:17 AM

        Haha, sorry.

      • JHathwell - Nov 27, 2013 at 8:56 PM

        That makes zero sense.

  3. antistratfordian - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:03 PM

    Well of course he’s going to say that. Dolan just said the same thing about the Knicks.

    The negotiation went pretty smoothly in terms of arriving at a number that as reported makes him the highest paid player in the league next year

    Strange. Kobe said that didn’t happen. He claimed he was just offered a number and he accepted.

  4. redbaronx - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Kurt – I think you’re absolutely wrong about the premise that no one questions this signing. I’m wiling to bet Magic doesn’t think this is a good deal, and he’s a businessman! This may make financial sense in the short term, but this can seriously hamper how quickly the Lakers can get back into contention, and if the Lakers experience a serious downturn like missing the playoffs a couple of years, it won’t make financial sense either.

    Where this CERTAINLY doesn’t make sense is the good of the team. It’s going to be hard enough to get a top flight player to LA to play with Kobe, and with his contract that’s going to seriously limit what talent they can bring in.

  5. mackcarrington - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:10 PM

    I think I get it. Everyone talked about the Lakers getting 2 “max” players next summer.
    The Lakers consider signing Kobe as getting 1 max player in the fold. I think the Lakers don’t think they have to get some $20 million dollar player to make themselves competitive. If they thought they needed more free agent money they would have offered Kobe a lot less. I think they know what they want to do. They haven’t done too shabby with the “post Dwight Howard Plan B.”
    They found some good young, hungry players with 1 year contracts that are playing .500 ball now. They can either keep 3 of those guys or find some more next year. They just may look at Gasol as the “other max player”. It’s going to be interesting either way.

    • eventhorizon04 - Nov 26, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      2009 Kobe + 2009 Pau was good enough to be a contender and compete successfully for titles.

      2013 Kobe (post-Achilles rupture) + 2013 Pau probably doesn’t get past the first round in the West. The West is crazy competitive this year.

  6. 00maltliquor - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:10 PM

    Our #1 goal from here on out now with the Mamba on lock should be to retain Jordan Hill. I would like Pau back too but I wonder what he’ll be asking for. That whole 48.5 mill -I can’t lie- did kind of put a damper on what is otherwise an extremely happy and relieved feeling (for me anyways).

    I really love the guys we have right now and would like to get most of them back to play a bench role, but we need real starters if we are to compete for Kobe’s 6th/our 17th on top of bringing back key guys for a bench mobb. The cap plus the repeater tax plus the lack of game-changing talent plus a slew of other things makes it hard for me to see anything substantial happening soon. Might as well try and re-sign our own guys on two year contracts. Except for Jordan Hill…max him out!!!! J/k…kind of.

  7. losanginsight - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    The best move the 16x Champion Lakers could have made. The Lakers don’t want to go into this off season hoping to sign another teams Star, The Lakers already have 1 of the top 5 players in the league. There is no parity in the NBA as far as Super Star players go, you are either a Champ with rings or your not. No in between. Mitch is smart enough to no there are also good FA classes in 2015 and ’16. The Lakers will be back on top. The fans here in LA are knowledgeable enough to know that will be done rather than later. Kobe will continue to sell out Staples Center and all the other arenas around the country without any banners. I’m talking about Championship banners. Not team selfie or division banners.

  8. miamatt - Nov 26, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    Well, I guess it beats the, “One thing I can say to Laker fans with utmost certainty is that the franchise will continue to field a profitable team for at least the next two seasons,” press conference.

  9. ambitoos - Nov 26, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    For the first time in 7 years the Lakers didn’t sell out. Kobe will sell every seat when he plays. They’re bringing in some young low cost talent that in time will earn more money as they improve. I like this move by the Lakers. In the mean time, Poppy’s team just keep getting older.

    • spursareold - Nov 27, 2013 at 9:59 AM

      Yeah, those old Spurs just “olded” themselves right into the Finals last year. How awful for the San Antonio fans.

  10. jzone954 - Nov 26, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    I mean what else is he gonna say?

  11. j0esixpack - Nov 26, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    You can’t fault Kupchak for this move. Not re-signing Kobe was not an option – and Kobe knew it.

    But you can fault Kobe for demanding $24 million in cap space – a huge amount especially for a guy who has yet to prove he is healthy or able to compete the way he once did (though I think he will)

    Quite simply Kobe had Kupchak between a rock and a hard place, and Kobe opted for money over championships.

    • eventhorizon04 - Nov 26, 2013 at 9:09 PM

      Nah – Kupchak could have waited.

      If Kobe came back and played several weeks of 28 points – 5 rebounds – 5 assists basketball, he could have offered Kobe the exact same deal, and Kobe would have accepted it. Very few other teams in the NBA are equipped to make an offer like that for one player.

      However, if Kobe came back and showed signs of lingering injury, Kupchak could have demand Kobe take a bigger paycut.

      Instead, Kupchak made Kobe the highest paid player in the NBA the next 2 years (guaranteed) without waiting to see how well he’s recovered from his injury. And Kobe just told Howard Beck that he’s “probably weeks, not days” away from returning.

      • j0esixpack - Nov 27, 2013 at 9:27 PM

        Good point. The only way that would be a logical move NOT to wait would be that Kobe’s agent threatened to increase the price.

        Even if the Lakers remain mediocre Kobe will still certainly tell tickets – but he actually DOES have to be in good form, and at the very least, on the court.

        The only way this was a smart move this early is if there was the threat of the price tag rising.

    • mackcarrington - Nov 26, 2013 at 10:15 PM

      I don’t know where it says anywhere that Kobe “demanded” anything.
      As quickly and as smoothly as the signing went, there didn’t seem to be any friction at all.
      Saying that Kobe demanded money is ridiculous fiction on your part.

      • spursareold - Nov 27, 2013 at 10:01 AM

        Mitch – “Kobe, we’d like you to think about…”
        Kobe – “I want 49M for 2 years”
        Mitch – “OK”

      • j0esixpack - Nov 27, 2013 at 6:43 PM

        I’d love to hear the theory in which Kobe wanted to do what Nowitzi, Garrett and others did and take only $11 million, giving the team a chance to compete for a championship

        … and instead it was Kupchak who insisted on paying him $24 million a year over Kobe’s objections.

        Seriously – how do you think these huge salaries are determined? That the agents and players want LESS than the GM winds up giving them????

  12. harshedmellow - Nov 27, 2013 at 12:40 AM

    Wow. Just wow.

    What. A. Strange. Move.

    Raise your hand if you saw THIS coming (Kobe gets ~ $75m for the next 3 seasons). It’s just… basketball lunacy.

    Nostradamus predicted a giant sinkhole swallowing a city in SoCal. Substitute “franchise” and he nailed it!

    Wow.

    • jcmeyer10 - Nov 27, 2013 at 9:05 AM

      Dude, you’re harshing Kobe’s mellow.

  13. omniusprime - Nov 27, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    Geez Kurt Helin didn’t you know that GM stands for General Moron? Considering how ignorant this article is you’re obviously a General Moron too! Sorry but Kupcake is no Jerry West when it comes to making smart personnel moves.

    Of course General Moron Kupcake is going to lie to us Laker fans that he can build a contender around Kobe and his too large contract. If Kobe were truly interested in winning another championship with the Lakers all he had to do was reduce his greed and take less so the team could bring in better talent. Since Kobe didn’t do that we Laker fans know that the next two years will be agonizing watching an aged Kobe just get more lame.

    As long as Jerky Boy Jimmy is running our beloved Laker franchise into the ground there will be no more titles for the Lakers. What’s needed is a clean sweep from top to bottom to rid the Laker franchise of all the dead weight and to start fresh rebuilding a championship team the way Dr. Jerry Buss did it, centering around a great center and guard combination like Jabbar and Magic or Shaq and Kobe. Not to mention we need a championship coach, not that Dumbtoni chump!

    Fire Dumbtoni! Retire Trash Nash and Trade Steve Flake!

  14. happster - Nov 27, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    Yeah, he’s great individually, but makes those around him terrible by being such a self-absorbed drama queen. No one wants to play with him, or “for him” shold I say, since he thinks he runs the show.

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