Kobe Bryant has indicated that next year will be his last with the Los Angeles Lakers, GM Mitch Kupchak said on Friday.
It’s not a surprise. Kobe’s contract is up after the 2015-16 season, and Kupchak has been saying for months that he expects him to retire.
While these last few years haven’t been the best of Kobe’s legendary career with the team, the Lakers should be in good shape to rebuild from scratch when he leaves. They’ll have some young pieces in Julius Randle and whoever they get with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 Draft (likely Karl-Anthony Towns of Jahlil Okafor).
Most importantly, Kobe’s $25 million/year contract comes off the books in the summer of 2016, the Lakers will have an incredible amount of financial flexibility as a result.
The cap is expected to explode from $67 million to $89 million in 2016-17 when the league’s new TV contract kicks in. That’s going to gift everyone cap space, but few teams will have more money to work with than the Lakers.
Right now the Lakers only have $8.5 million on the books for 2016-17. When you factor in the ~$4.5 million the team’s 2015 first-round pick will make, you’re still only at $13 million. As it stands, the Lakers could have has much as $76 million in cap space next summer. Only the Portland Trail Blazers have so little committed in 2016-17 salary (and that should change this summer if they re-sign LaMarcus Aldridge and extend Damian Lillard).
Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Mike Conley are all scheduled to hit the market in 2016. While the NBA’s free agency rules and the fact everyone will have some cap space will make it tougher for L.A. to sign a big name, the Lakers have always had a knack for landing the league’s biggest stars. Whether it’s Shaq or Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard or Steve Nash or even Chris Paul (before David Stern vetoed it), history tells us NBA players will find a way to get to L.A. if they have the cap room.
And even if they strike out on those top-line names, they’ll have the flexibility to bring in a collection of solid players to put around Randle and Towns/Okafor.
All of this could go down in flames if the Lakers overspend on free agents this year. But even if they bring in a max player this summer, the combination of Kobe’s contract coming off the books and the cap going through the roof means they’ll still have a ton of cap space in 2016.
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