Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

April 2, 2010

Bryant Signs Extension with Lakers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:56 pm

Overshadowed by the speculation over LeBron James and the other big names in the 2010 free agent class was the possibility that Kobe Bryant could join the group. Bryant had the option of opting out of the final year of his contract and becoming a free agent, but chose instead to sign a three-year contract extension through the 2013-14 season, announced Friday afternoon by the Lakers. Larry Coon pointed out last fall that Bryant could cost himself some money by leaving the value of the extension in the hands of the next NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. If he opted out and signed the same contract with the Lakers this summer as a free agent, it would be subject to the current CBA.

Perhaps Bryant is more optimistic about negotiations for the next CBA, anticipating it will not affect star players that much. He might also be pessimistic to the extent that that there has been some speculation that the league will ask to retroactively apply its provisions to existing contracts. (This, I grant, seems very unlikely.) Or maybe he’s just not that concerned about the money.

If the new CBA does cost Bryant, it won’t be the first time–or anywhere near as costly as the 1999 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Sports Illustrated‘s Jackie McCallum reported at the time that Bryant was one of five players to vote against the deal that ended the lockout. Bryant had powerful incentive to be against the newly instituted maximum salary. While every superstar has seen his earning power hurt by limits on individual salaries since then, Bryant was the closest to realizing that potential. He was eligible for an extension after the lockout was resolved. Bryant ended up signing for six years and $70 million, but who knows how much he might have been able to make without a max salary. A year earlier, Kevin Garnett had extended his contract for six years and $125 million, and Bryant surely would have been looking for a similar deal.

There was never any question the Lakers would bring Bryant, but how does this deal look from their perspective? We can compare Bryant to the 2010 free-agent crop using the three-year similarity projections I introduced in the first part of my Summer 2010 Preview. Players similar to Bryant produced 25.3 WARP over the next three years, which puts him a step below the Chris Bosh/Dwyane Wade level. Yes, if you follow the link, Manu Ginobili (26.7) has a slightly better projection, but don’t read too much into that. The difference can entirely be explained by the fact that Ginobili draws Michael Jordan as one of his 10 best comps, while Bryant can’t because at the same age Jordan was busy trying to hit curveballs.

The bottom line is it’s unlikely that Bryant will be playing at his current level by 2014, though he should still be a valuable player. And even if he’s overpaid by then, he’s earned it.

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