Way back in the summer of 2007, the fact that Kobe Bryant had an opt-out clause in his contract for the summer of 2009 had many Lakers fans in a panic. Kobe was openly feuding with management and Lakers fans feared their star would head off to greener pastures.
Now, with the team poised as a title contender, there is little talk of Kobe bolting to play in Chicago or New York. But, the opt-out clause is still there, and he could still use it next summer.
Will he? Yes and no, according to the LA Times this morning. Yes, Kobe probably will opt out so he can get three more years at the end of the deal (taking him to age 36) and giving him some more money and financial security. But, he will not leave the Lakers.
And while Kobe has a plethora of options at his fingertips this summer — not opt out and make “just” $47 million the next two years, opt out and play for another team and make more money, opt out resign with the Lakers, opt out and go play in Greece — when you start to break it down there a really aren’t many palatable options.
Quickly, let’s review a key fact about Kobe — he is the most competitive player in the NBA since Jordan. He hates losing, and the thought of losing for a long time is what spurred Kobe’s “summer of discontent” in 2007. Winning championships, especially winning one without Shaq, motivates him like nothing else.
If Kobe were to opt out this summer and try to sign somewhere else, he could only go to ones with cap space to sign a max player next summer (you think Kobe will sign for less than the max?). Those teams are Memphis (rebuilding and nowhere near a contender), Okalahoma City (same as Memphis), Minnesota (same as Memphis but farther along), Miami (they have D. Wade but little depth) and Portland (an up and coming team that should contend in a couple years but will have to spend a lot to resign their existing stars).
Where is Kobe going to go that would be a team more ready to win than the Lakers right now, while Kobe is at his peak? One other advantage the Lakers have, they can offer more money than any other team. The current deal between the players union and the NBA was designed to give teams an advantage in keeping star players, so the Lakers can offer more money and larger annual increases than any other team.
Bottom line, while Kobe is probably going to get richer this summer, he is not going anywhere. That doesn’t mean that the discussion topic is not going to come up a whole lot this season. (Beat reporter: “Hey, Kobe, how would you feel about playing in [insert city of choice here]?” We’re going to hear that a lot.)