Monday, April 15, 2013

Torn Achilles and All, Kobe Bryant is a Laker for Life

Some people are counting Kobe Bryant out. Are the Lakers? (

The torn left Achilles tendon Kobe Bryant suffered Friday night is one of the most devastating injuries to a superstar in NBA history. Clearly, it cannot rival Magic Johnson's HIV diagnosis — what can? — but what other marquee name involuntarily missed six-to-nine months? Michael Jordan left for baseball, but no one other than Bulls fans would argue that was the result of an injury. A torn Achilles is tough to recover from, especially at an advanced age. Chauncey Billups may still not be 100 percent after suffering a similar tear last season and at the time he was only about one year older than Bryant is now (34). Bryant's undeniable intangibles, his tenacity, drive and will, are the reason he will persevere and return to NBA action, and those are the same reasons he will remain on the Los Angeles Lakers roster as long as possible.

Hours before the tear heard 'round Hollywood, BDD's own Chris Smith mentioned the amnesty clause befalling Bryant and a fuming Kobe signing with another high profile team in order to exact revenge. The amnesty aspect was a joke that, fewer than three days later, became an argument in some spectators are legitimately encouraging. From collective bargaining agreement whiz Larry Coon at ESPN to low-level blogs, the word is out: the Lakers can save money by using their one-time amnesty on Bryant. Grantland's Zach Lowe estimates the move would save $30-40 million in salary, which increases to around $60 million when the luxury tax and other fees (per Bill Simmons).

That's a bundle of money, even for an historically loose-pocketed franchise like the Lakers. They bring in big names and expect big production, usually getting just that, but in a Murphy's Law season like this — with Steve Nash falling to injury after injury, Dwight Howard stating his plan to pursue free agency and a thin bench not able to patch the holes in a disjointed starting lineup — why wouldn't Bryant get the axe? It would allow the Lakers to build around Howard and make a bid for LeBron James in the summer of 2014 free agency class. Short-term and long-term, the move makes sense.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is holding pat that Bryant will not be amnestied, though, and even if he does not have the final say in the matter, Kupchak is right. Bryant is one of the few players in the current era that is on the trajectory to spend his entire career with one franchise. He has already logged 17 seasons in the NBA, in addition to playing enough playoff games and spending enough time with Team USA to have roughly 20 years of professional wear and tear on his body. It is unlikely post-injury Bryant will ever be the same as pre-injury Bryant, including what he was up to the moment of the Achilles tear.

But Bryant is the ultimate competitor. He hobbled onto the court and sunk two free-throws after going down Friday night against Golden State. He patterned his game after Jordan and, not surprisingly, absorbed some of Jordan's me-against-the-world attitude. The Lakers organization, top to bottom, knows what amnestying Bryant would mean: saving money, rebuilding into a contender after one year as a fringe playoff team, and getting burned by Bryant whenever they meet whatever team he chooses to sign with. For as un-Kobe as Bryant would be, he would channel all his rage, frustration and resentment into burning Staples Center to the ground every time he visited, be it against the Lakers or the Clippers. As for meeting the Lakers in a different arena? Bryant would soak up the crowd's energy as he pump-faked his way through the Lakers' perimeter defense, actively trying to embarrass his former team.

If keeping a future Hall of Famer on the roster for his entire career does not motivate Lakers brass to retain Bryant, fear will guide them away from using the amnesty clause in this scenario. Using it makes sense, but is it a (calculated) risk the Lakers are willing to take? Or are they too proud to trade a handful of nearly automatic losses for extra money and potentially better playoff seeding? Maybe pride has nothing to do with it for the franchise, but it's everything in the world for Kobe.

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