There's a case to be made for the L.A. Lakers to use their amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant. The star guard is the NBA's highest-paid player at $27.8 million this season. He'll make $30 million in 2013-14 ... a season in which he may not be available at all, depending on how he recovers from Saturday's surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon. Using amnesty on Kobe would allow the Lakers to bolster their roster and shrink an enormous luxury tax burden. And since Kobe is a free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season, he could in theory still finish his career in L.A. by signing a new (much, much smaller) contract.
It's a nice theory, and Amin Elhassan made a strong theoretical case for how it could all work out. But it's going to have to remain in theory only, because ...
Kobe is not waiting for the 2014-15 season. Nope. That's not how he's built. I'm reading Tim Grover's Relentless right now. Grover trained Jordan for 15 years, and has dedicated recent years to Kobe and Dwyane. It's not in Kobe to slow-walk his recovery and time his return to 18 months from now. It just won't happen. Look at Kobe's interview after the injury. He said he's going to study the fastest Achilles recoveries and do it even faster. The timeline the Lakers offered up Saturday is six to nine months. The low end is mid-October. The 2013-14 season begins in late October. We all know that Kobe spent last night thinking about how he's going to make it back for opening night. This is Kobe we're talking about. He's not going to chill for a year to help the Lakers make some dough.
Amin's plan works for most players. Not Kobe. Look at what's at stake for the rest of Bryant's career. He's about 30 games from passing MJ on the all-time scoring list. He still has Kareem in his sights. Sitting for a season in which he could play would end that journey -- it's a stretch if he plays every single game for the next few seasons. Missing months is not an option if he wants to go down as the highest scoring player ever. In addition to that, Kobe's not getting a ring this year and remains one tantalizing ring behind Jordan. He wants one or two more. Sitting for a season in his mid-30s? Nope. He'll think the Lakers can win it next year with a healthier Dwight Howard, a healthier Pau Gasol and a healthier Steve Nash.
Even if the Lakers could get Kobe to go along with the plan, as soon as they put him on waivers other teams are going to make bids. That's the wonderful tweak about the amnesty clause: unlike normal waivers, a team interested in a player doesn't have to pick up the full salary. Some team with the cap space (Detroit?) could bid 50 percent -- they'd be on the hook to pay Kobe $15 million for the 2013-14 season. Or it could be lower if teams get dodgy, though you know one team with space that would totally bring Kobe in is the Mavericks. And then the pitch would begin: "Kobe, we know you're sitting out to help the Lakers. But don't you want to compete this year? Don't you want to pass MJ and maybe Karl Malone and Kareem? We still have Dirk. You two would still be a force to be reckoned with. Come back early, and we'll get to the postseason and maybe win this thing. And we'll pay you lots of money next year, too, if you want to stay."
Mark Cuban can make that case.
Then there's the matter of Bird rights and Kobe's 2014-15 salary. If the Lakers use amnesty on him, they would renounce his Bird rights. So if he doesn't play in 2013-14, the Lakers could not then go above the cap to sign him without using an exception. Assuming the Lakers re-sign Howard after waiving Kobe and do not pawn off Pau for a low-salary package, they would still end up above the tax in the 2014 offseason, meaning that Kobe could sign for only $2.5 million.
Kobe Bryant has a whole lot of money. But does anyone think he's going to play for $2.5 million at any point? No. No no no.
If the Lakers don't amnesty him, he can sign for anything up to about $32 million in starting salary for a new contract. Chances are he'd take less to give the Lakers a better chance at competing. But less might mean $15 million or $20 million or maybe, if he's feeling really generous, $10 million. But realize that Dwight Howard isn't taking a pay cut to stay, if he stays. Do you think Kobe's taking a pay cut so that Dwight Howard can get his full salary allotment? I sure don't.
Do you think Kobe would agree to a plan that would force him to sit out for an entire season and would result in him getting $2.5 million in 2014-15? I sure don't.
That's the other risk in amnesty. If another team like the Mavericks picks him up, even if he continues to hold out and won't play in 2013-14, that team can offer him up to $32 million for 2014-15 whether they are over the cap or not via Bird rights. So let's reframe that last question.
Do you think Kobe would agree to a plan that would force him to sit out for an entire season and turn down up to $32 million per season (though more likely less) to take $2.5 million from the Lakers? I sure don't.
So Amin's excellent theoretical plan -- which would work for most players -- isn't going to work for Kobe. Bryant isn't going to give up a season of play to get "rewarded" with a 92 percent pay cut. (Let's not forget who Kobe's agent is, either: Rob Pelinka, a man who knows the system, likes to get paid and once let his client Carlos Boozer stab a blind man in the back. Imagine Pelinka's response to Mitch Kupchak pitching the amnesty-wait-91 percent pay cut plan.)
Of course, the Lakers could still amnesty Kobe and hope he comes back cheaply in 2014-15. But reading Relentless and having watched Kobe for the last decade and a half, the second that the Lakers waive Kobe without his consent -- the very second they do that -- is the moment that the Black Mamba wages personal war on that franchise. The amnesty clause is for Travis Outlaw and Charlie Bell and Josh Childress, not Kobe Bryant. To waive Kobe in July would be to tacitly acknowledge that because of his injury he is not worth his salary in 2013-14. To acknowledge that the franchise and its brand new leader,Jim Buss, doesn't believe Kobe can come back from the surgery stronger, better, more valuable. How do you think Kobe responds to acknowledgments like that from a franchise to which he has given 17 years and five rings?
He wages war.
I think many things about Jim Buss, some of them probably true and most of them probably exaggerated. But I don't think he's stupid enough to spark that war. Phil Jackson is one thing. Kobe Bryant? The city of Los Angeles has already to some extent turned on the Jim and Chaz era. You heard them chant "We want Phil!" earlier this month. But that would be nothing -- NOTHING -- compared to the wrath fans would unleash if Buss sparked a war between Kobe and the franchise. And I just don't think Jim is stupid enough to risk it.
So no, I don't believe the Lakers will use the amnesty clause on Kobe. It just wouldn't end well.