Kobe’s High-Priced Re-Up Is Just Part of Future Melo-Drama


I turned the TV off late Monday night with the NY Knicks getting smashed by the Portland Trailblazers 44-22 with about 7:00 left in the second quarter. Carmelo Anthony turned off thoughts of his Knicks future sometime around training camp. Then, he told us in October: “I want to be a free agent.”

A Shadow League article I wrote on October 18th forewarned of Melo’s exit from the NY jungle after this season. He’s looking at the front door. He wasn’t buying into the false optimism that Mike Woodson and the Knicks brass was kicking. That left around the same time the Knicks—a three-point shooting squad—let Steve Novakaine go to Toronto and allowed burgeoning Chris Copeland to jet to Indiana.

During practices, he probably glanced around at old-ass K Mart, that water balloon of a point guard Raymond Felton and basket case J.R. Smith, and made up his mind that he wasn’t coming back next season. He basically told the New York Observer that he wanted to be romanced, just as much as he wanted to win.

Melo’s entire approach to this season was compromised from jump. There was something premeditated in his unenthusiastic aspirations for this season. At the same time, he was a bit too excited about declaring himself a free agent before the season even tipped. Was it The Black Mamba who was whispering sweet nothings in Melo’s ear and entrancing the NY star in a web of promised championships and legacy-reconstruction? Kobe probably had our hometown honey stolen as soon as the 2012 season ended pitifully against the Pacers in the second-round of the playoffs.

That’s probably why the Lakers abandoned all cap flexibility and pushed 40 percent of their salary cap to a 35-year-old aging legend with more nicks and scrapes than a repo truck. LA announced Monday that Bryant has signed a contract extension worth $48.5 million over two years.

Some basketball minds suggested that LA will part ways with the superstar and start fresh with a load of cap room. For the Lakers, however, it was a simple choice: Rather than let their cash cow taste the open market and risk losing him, they chose to lockdown Kobe for life.

“This is a very happy day for Lakers fans and for the Lakers organization,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “We’ve said all along that our priority and hope was to have Kobe finish his career as a Laker, and this should ensure that that happens. To play 20 years in the NBA, and to do so with the same team, is unprecedented, and quite an accomplishment. Most importantly however, it assures us that one of the best players in the world will remain a Laker, bringing us excellent play and excitement for years to come.”

What choice did they really have? We knew Mamba wasn’t going to take a pay cut. That would imply he wasn’t at the top of his game anymore, and nobody decides that but him. If anything, after five titles, Kobe probably feels entitled to the Derek Jeter “thanks for what you used to do”  deal Jeter finessed in 2010,  despite coming off the worst year of his career.

Bryant, who has not played since suffering a torn Achilles tendon in April, will make more than $30.4 million this season, the final year of his current contract. Seems to me like the Lakers have a plan in place. Bryant will join guard Steve Nash ($9.7 million) as the only contracts on L.A.’s books that aren’t minimum deals or rookie contracts.

The Lakers should enter the 2014 free agency period with at least $20 million in salary cap space to chase a max-level player like Carmelo (who already has more money than he could ever spend). If Kobe’s as healthy as possible, adding Melo makes them instant contenders. The Lakers could gain additional flexibility if Nash decides to retire for medical reasons, something he said recently he won’t do. Trust: if that decision is blocking a Melo move, I’m sure Nash and The Buss family will work out an amicable retirement plan.

The lane would be wide open at that point. Lakers have the cap space. Kobe has the influence. Plus, a NY to LA relocation won’t be considered a bailout on Melo’s part. It won’t seem like he’s running from the bright lights and big-city pressure of NY. Heading to Hollywood is a lateral move that wife La La would embrace because of her acting and reality TV pursuits. It’s not like Mamba has jack to prove. He’s just chasing Jordan, Russell and those NBA Godfather cats.

Bryant ranked No. 4 on SI.com’s “Fortunate 50″ list of the highest-paid professional athletes back in May. He was No. 2 among NBA players, trailing only King James, with an estimated annual take of $46.9 million, which included $19 million in outside endorsements. Bryant also ranked No. 3 on the NBA’s global jersey sales for the 2012-13 seasons.

After nearly two decades in the game, the man is still riveting and relevant. If you put a piece of paper in a bottle with the definition of a “basketball player” written on it for future generations to find, when they open it a picture of Kobe Bryant would be revealed. The 15-time All-Star has deservedly caked roughly $279 million and his new deal will pump that figure to $327 million.

How would LA have looked letting their gem roll out the door over dough? Kobe is not only going to still give you stud numbers and go hard, but he’s chasing records and it benefits LA to have him break them in a Lakers uniform. An injury-ravished Kobe still averaged 27.3 points, 6 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game last season, and he needs just 676 points to move past Michael Jordan for the No. 3 slot on the all-time scoring list. That’s barely half a season of work for Kobe.

The Knicks can still pay Melo the most money, but reports say Melo wouldn’t mind being a part of that Kobe situation. The emergence of guard Jodi Meeks (13.3 ppg) plus the contributions of Nick Young and center Jordan Hill give LA some dope young pieces to build around Kobe and Melo.

And frankly, Melo is fed up with scoring 34 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, then getting blasted by media and Knicks haters, as he did in Monday’s 102-91 loss to Portland .

The easy route is what the NBA is all about now, anyway. It’s become as acceptable as snitching in the hood, and Melo’s desire to be chased like a skirt mirrors that of King James. So I wouldn’t see Melo having a problem taking a slight pay cut on the front end to come to LA and tear clubs and courts down for a hot sec.

It’s clear that emotionally Anthony wants out. Whether he makes the move or not is a saga to be played out across internet blogs and TV screens everywhere. The Knicks really aren’t getting any better. With the 3-10 start to this season, the incentive for him to stay is waning.

Enter the potentially life-changing olive branch extended by Kobe and LA. For one, whether Kobe admits it or not, bringing on Melo would knock him to wingman status. There are peope who feel Kobe is too selfish to ever return to his secondary-status, Shaq days. A succesful run with Melo would prove them wrong and be similiar to when A-Rod joined the Yankees and moved to third to appease Derek Jeter. The playboys put egos aside and went on to win a World Series together in 2009.

Kobe needs a miracle if he is going to win another title, the same type of miracle that landed him Pau Gasol. Melo could be that miracle. Kobe is also trying to erase Jordan from the record books, even if he can’t ever get the same love or have the same cultural impact as MJ. Another chip or two and Kobe probably wouldn’t mind dying right there on the court with his last shiny ball tucked under his aging arms. You know the man is obsessed with winning and working. It’s what has made him an immortal. It’s what has driven him to come back and ball for another term. Not ego. Not money.

Melo is looking like Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing right now: Super dope but ringless. Bare-knuckled outsiders at any Hall of Fame function. His legacy is starving for some playoff glory. LA is calling; let’s see if Kobe gets the money and the proverbial girl.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.