Locking up Bryant makes good business sense while sending a message to the current roster and the fan base that the team is committed this season and beyond. With Bryant out and Dwight Howard in Houston the Lakers have revamped their roster to try to inject some new life into what looked to be a stale squad. The Lakers will have difficulty stacking up against the best teams in the Western Conference but General Manager Mitch Kupchak has given Mike D’Antoni some new pieces to work with. The bench is younger and more athletic, with players like Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar making solid contributions. The starting lineup, currently built around Pau Gasol until Bryant returns, has benefited lately from solid contributions by Jordan Hill, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks. If Steve Nash can return and provide some solid minutes this season the Lakers, once Bryant returns, have the pieces to make a playoff run.
The fan base will be energized by the Lakers commitment in Bryant. Locking up their star rather than taking a potential amnesty route is a sign that the club expects Bryant to return and contribute to the success of the team. Bryant has been practicing for the past week and should make his return by the middle of December at the latest. If the Lakers can navigate their upcoming road trip successfully and stay around the .500 mark the return of Bryant should give the Lakers the boost needed to stay in contention the remainder of the season.
The deal also is a signal to potential free agents that the Lakers aren’t necessarily a rebuilding process. The Lakers still will have the Steve Nash contract on the books next season, but will have around $22 million to bring in a max free agent for next season. The big story around the league will be the potential of Lebron James leaving the Miami Heat by exercising his out clause. It’s hard to imagine James leaving the Heat for the Lakers, but the Lakers have pulled off such moves in the past. Beyond James though the free agent crop is pretty slim, making a potential sign and trade deal for another asset perhaps more of a reality. The other wildcard is what the Lakers decide to do with Pau Gasol. The Lakers big man has a cap hit of $20 million until he signs with the Lakers or someone else. They’ll have to access their options before they decide whether or not to bring Gasol back.
Whatever the Lakers decide to do this offseason they are committed to Bryant for the next two seasons as they transition into the next era of Lakers basketball