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Lakers’ GM says franchise still can build contender around Kobe

Nov 26, 2013, 5:26 PM EDT

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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.

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