In college, I’ve learned to love the idea of a professor dropping my lowest test grade. If ever through the semester I bomb on an exam, I have the option of just pretending that grade never happened. I couldn’t think of a better way to be absolved from an inevitable mistake.
That’s what the NBA’s amnesty clause does for teams with a cap-killing contract on their books. If you leave it up to those skeptical of Kobe Bryant’s recovery from his Achilles tear, you would be cutting $30 million owed to the future Hall of Famer.
The idea of the Lakers trying to save money isn’t one to avoid, but the idea of going through the channels of using the amnesty on Bryant isn’t one where the benefits outweigh the consequences.
This isn’t the first time that the idea of using the amnesty clause on Bryant has come up, but this is the first time that the idea isn’t exactly far-fetched. With that being said, “Far-fetched” and “worth it” are two entirely different things.
With cutting Bryant’s salary from the books, the Lakers can save $80 million in luxury tax penalties while being able to bring in someone else to pair with Dwight Howard, assuming he re-signs, for a run to a better season next year. The Lakers have the highest payroll in the NBA, so cutting costs could prove a worth investment if you’re looking to move on from the Kobe Bryant era. But the fact is that amnestying Bryant will be comparable to treating his Achilles tear as a death sentence to his career.
The amnesty clause will allow Bryant to still pocket his $30 million salary next season, so he won’t exactly go hungry if the Lakers decide to cut ties with him; but there are other provisions that go into the amnesty clause that make using it on Bryant a slippery slope that even the lavishly spending Lakers can’t afford.
If the Lakers decide to amnesty Bryant, he won’t be allowed to play for them again until the length of his contract subsides. So, basically, Kobe wouldn’t be eligible to sign as a Laker again until the summer of 2014.
That provision would mean one of two things: 1) Kobe would have to sit out the entire season rehabbing to avoid playing for another franchise or 2) Kobe would end up signing with another team because anyone who knows him knows he isn’t sitting out an entire season worth a damn.
Although Kobe has said he doesn’t want to play for another team for as long he’s in the NBA, he isn’t going to allow the Lakers to cast him away because he’s injured and would be seen as a cap-killing burden to their efforts to build around Dwight Howard.
The Lakers are in the playoffs because Bryant challenged age-old norms to have the best year that anyone has ever had in his 17th NBA season. There have been contributions from various places at various times, but there has been only one consistency: Mr. Bean.
You don’t reward efforts like Kobe’s this season by showing him the door until he has a doctor’s note saying he’s okay. You don’t cut ties with a cornerstone who has given you five NBA titles, countless historic moments, and has served as the constant to so many changes over the course of the decade.
There was an uproar after the Lakers traded Shaq even though he was more inclined to get paid than remain a Laker. The tease that became the “Phil Jackson hire that never was” upset Laker fans who grew weary of seeing Mike Brown look overwhelmed on the job.
With or without Bryant in the fold, the Lakers are moving into an era with pieces that not lack a universal opinion. Mike D’Antoni has drawn the ire of the fan base with some of his decisions, Jim Buss has been less than popular among the masses, and, most notably, Dwight Howard has generated mixed reviews that aren’t helped him not yet committing to re-signing with the team this summer.
Considering the fact that Bryant’s contract expires next summer and that the amnesty clause is a one-time provision over the course of the present collective bargaining agreement, amnestying him comes off as nothing but a rushed decision that signals the beginning of an era with no clarity on the steps into the next one.
Amnestying Bryant is about more than looking to save a couple of bucks, it’s a decision on closing a chapter that he isn’t even interesting in finishing just yet.
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