By Mitch Chortkoff
As the editor of this newspaper I urge my columnists to take a stand on issues.
I don’t tell them what stand to take, but merely let readers know their position. Readers have their opinions and want to compare them to yours.
But today I find myself unable to take the same advice. Kobe Bryant has signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract with the Lakers and as the wisdom of the Lakers’ move is debated nationally I can very clearly see both sides of the issue.
First, the obvious benefits. Kobe, one of the greatest players in NBA history, is going to become the first player in the league’s history to play 20 years with the same team. Laker fans will be able to see him play here for the next two years.
Frankly, I had trouble envisioning him coming into Staples Center wearing a different uniform and playing against the Lakers.
However, there are genuine reasons to worry about this development.
First, we don’t know how effective Kobe will be as he recovers from a serious injury, a torn Achilles. So far, Kobe hasn’t played this season.
We had been led to believe the Lakers would wait until they saw what Kobe could contribute this season before deciding his future. Instead, they gave him the maximum, assuring that he’ll continue being the league’s highest paid player.
Second, the contract cuts deeply into the Lakers’ ability to sign a couple more premium players, something they were counting on doing in the coming off-season.
Teams are limited by league rules on what they can spend. Now it looks like the Lakers will be able to sign only one premier free agent, with Carmelo Anthony the current favorite.
Several NBA stars have accepted smaller contracts, enabling their teams to have money for other players. Two examples are Dwayne Wade and Tim Duncan. With a more flexible payroll Miami and San Antonio added players and remain at the top in the standings.
With Bryant and one premier free agent the Lakers are going to be better. But a championship contender? Unlikely.
We don’t know if they’ll have Steve Nash, who is currently injured. Or Pau Gasol, who is making $19 million and may not be brought back next season.
I heard the commentators on ESPN speak unfavorably about the Lakers’ decision this week.
Former coach Jeff Van Gundy said the contract is good for Kobe but not necessarily for the Lakers.
Another commentator said this is a terrible deal for the Lakers because it limits their spending ability.
A third commentator said Kobe now has a very small chance of earning a sixth NBA championship because the Lakers won’t be able to surround him with enough quality help.
So it might be a dilemma.
Almost everyone agrees the Lakers won’t be a championship contender this season. In fact, qualifying for the playoffs is no certainty.
I’ll conclude by bringing up the name of Derrick Rose.
The 25-year-old former league MVP of the Chicago Bulls suffered a serious injury, as Kobe did. He stayed out 18 months, giving himself the best chance of healing properly. But the other night Rose, who had recovered from an injury to his left knee, damaged his right knee. He underwent surgery and he’s through for this season.
Everyone, Laker fans and other fans of basketball, hope Kobe can avoid another serious injury. But there’s no guarantee.
So there are both sides. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one is the right one.