Kobe Bryant's next contract and judging the Lakers owner's motives

Danny La-USA TODAY Sports

Plus: The Hook considers whether the Knicks were unfairly snubbed in the annual GM survey.

Kobe Bryant will be a free agent on July 1, 2014, unless the Los Angeles Lakers reach an extension agreement with him first. Kobe is by far the highest-paid player in the league. He'll make $30.4 million this season. Second on the list: Dirk Nowitzki at $22 million.

The NBA salary cap is really not built for players making $30 million these days. A host of new luxury tax penalties approved in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement are being phased in, and it's pretty hard to fill out a non-tax roster when one player gets you 43 percent toward the threshold. There's a real chance that once Kobe is done making $30 million plus, no player will ever again reach that level. Only one other player, Michael Jordan, has made that much. He did it before maximum player salary limits went into effect.

Kobe has not indicated much of a willingness to take a steep pay cut to stay in Los Angeles for the end of his career. He is, however, smart and knows the only teams that will play him $30 million in 2014-15 and beyond would need to be extraordinarily desperate. Kobe doesn't do desperate. So chances are that Bryant is going to offer some level of discount to avoid the embarrassment of suiting up for, say, the Bobcats.

But the Lakers aren't really too much better at this point, and it's got to be a tough sell for L.A.'s management to convince Kobe to spend the final years of his illustrious career fighting for a playoff berth. Not a championship: a playoff berth ... while taking a huge pay cut.

This isn't to say that the Lakers can't pull it off, but it will be a tricky proposition. The Lakers must strike the right balance between deference to a living legend and responsible long-term team-building. And given the status Kobe has achieved among Lakers fans -- he is a God -- any rough waters in the negotiations could spell doom for the post-Jerry Buss Lakers power structure.

That's what makes this, from ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, so darned interesting.

"I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent," [Jim] Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Friday night. "That's not going to happen. Kobe is a top priority for us. He's a Laker legend and always will be. I don't think we're done winning championships with him yet.

"[Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak and [Bryant's agent] Rob Pelinka have been talking, but with him being hurt, it has slowed the process some. I don't know when it'll get done, but I have faith in Rob and Mitch to work things out."

Depending on your outlook, that is either Jim Buss asserting to the viewing public that he will spare no expense to keep the greatest Laker of this generation in place as he chases records, or that is an anxious, conniving Jim Buss pinning the situation on his GM. The easiest way to escape blame when an unpopular decision is made is to put the responsibility for making that decision on someone else. It's classic "passing the buck."

I'm not sure that's exactly what Buss is doing here. He could very well be telling the truth, that the Lakers are going to get it done and he trusts Kupchak to work it out. Certainly, Lakers fans on the whole feel more comfortable with Kupchak in the lead than they would if Buss announced he was running the negotiations.

But if Buss were setting up a potential breakup with Kobe due to money, this is a pretty slick way to start it.

There's also this, from the passage above:

[B]ut with him being hurt, it has slowed the process some ...

Why? Because the team wants to see him back in form before committing? If so, that sure doesn't sound like the certainty Buss expressed about keeping Kobe. Again, it could be totally innocuous due to Kobe's rehab travel schedule. Or it could be a setup to separate from Bryant. With Buss, can anyone honestly tell what's honest?


The New York Post's Marc Berman expresses dismay that 29 NBA GMs basically ignored the Knicks. In the annual survey of NBA GMs, New York ended up with relatively little recognition despite coming off of a 54-win season. Berman has some specific complaints, like ...

In the category "Best Homecourt Advantage," seven arenas got votes. Nobody picked the Garden, where the Knicks posted a 31-10 record last season, winning their first 10 home games and their last 10.

For the record, the Knicks finished seventh in home wins last season. What a travesty that no one considered them to have the single best homecourt advantage in basketball.

The unproven Nets were overwhelming picks to win the Atlantic Division - with 76 percent of the vote versus 24 percent for the Knicks.

The Nets finished five games behind the Knicks last season. They added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry. The Knicks added Andrea Bargnani and Beno Udrih. I would say that GMs assessed those moves reasonably.

Yes, one GM did give him an MVP vote (Steve Mills?), but in revealing categories such as "Which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments," [Carmelo] Anthony got stiffed. Six players - including Stephen Curry - got votes.

1. No, Steve Mills did not vote 'Melo. You can't vote your own team/player in this exercise.

2. This is amazing: 'Melo picks up an preseason MVP vote, but that doesn't matter because no one deemed him the player who forces the most adjustments by opposing coaches. What an outrage.

[Tyson] Chandler, who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2012, also got the shaft. He didn't get a single vote for league's best defender, best center or best leader.

Tyson Chandler finished No. 13 in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season. The Knicks ranked No. 17 in defensive rating. Tyson Chandler is now 31 years old, has a history of injuries and will be covering for Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani most of the time. The circumstances just scream DPOY, don't they?

Andrea Bargnani, who has yet to stand out in preseason, was not named as one of the "International players ready for a breakout."

Again, this is supposed to be a critique of the GMs' ballots?

But the biggest diss went to [Mike] Woodson. There are five coaching categories in this survey - from "best head coach'' to "head coach who runs the best defense" to "best coach for in-game adjustments." In the five categories, 12 coaches were mentioned at least once, including George Karl, and he isn't even coaching this season.

Woodson? Nothing. That was the biggest travesty. When you list reasons the Knicks won 54 games last season, Woodson is atop the list.

Well I'm glad someone thinks so, because that is an extraordinarily rare opinion, and it totally undercuts the disdain Berman showed for the Chandler and Anthony snubs.

We're just lucky someone is there to stand up for the poor Knickerbockers.

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