Kobe Bryant: ‘I’m not going anywhere’
The last of the Lakers completed their exit meetings Friday with their coach and general manager, but not before providing a triple-barrel blast of hope for the future as everybody went their separate ways for the summer.
Kobe Bryant re-emphasized that he would return to the Lakers, Coach Phil Jackson said he would too if a series of upcoming medical tests went well, and General Manager Mitch Kupchak said he was “hopeful” that unrestricted free-agent forwards Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza would be back.
Still basking in the glow of the franchise’s 15th championship, the Lakers peered into the future and universally liked what they saw.
Bryant can terminate his contract and look at other teams as an unrestricted free agent, though he said he would be back next season, following up on his Wednesday afternoon declaration at the championship rally that Los Angeles “was my home.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said Friday. “I know I ain’t going nowhere. It just wastes our breath just talking about it. Let’s talk about Trevor and Lamar and the importance of bringing them back.”
Bryant, who will be 31 in August, is under contract for two more years and $47.8 million, though he could rip up that contract and sign a new one for five more years and about $135 million.
Jackson and Kupchak spoke optimistically that Ariza and Odom would return to the Lakers after free agency begins July 1.
“I think the one thing that bodes well for both parties is that we would like to try and get that done,” Kupchak said. “Unless the players have misled me and Phil and the rest of the people that you [media] guys represent, they want to come back. So that’s a good thing.”
Ariza made $3.1 million this season and could move up to an average annual salary of $7 million or $8 million. Odom was on the Lakers’ books for $14.1 million and will probably have to drop down to an average annual salary of $9 million or $10 million.
The Lakers paid $7.1 million in luxury taxes this past season, a number that could double or triple if Odom and Ariza were signed. The Lakers have already committed $74 million toward next season’s payroll, a number that could swell to $90 million or more, not including a luxury-tax penalty in the neighborhood of $20 million.
“I’m convinced that we can get both of these guys back to play,” Jackson said. “Obviously, it’s going to take sacrifice on many parts. Obviously [owner] Dr. [Jerry] Buss is not going to be able to do it without having to make sacrifices at some level. And [Odom and Ariza] are probably going to have to sacrifice something in the process if they want to come back.”
Kupchak vouched for Buss, who has not granted a media interview since November.
“He’s always seemed to do the right thing in terms of putting this organization in a position to compete,” Kupchak said. “And that’s all I can rely on. He makes really well-thought-out basketball business decisions and that’s been his m.o. since he purchased this team. I trust his judgment and I trust his ability to do that.”
If Bryant terminates his contract, he could sign for less than $135 million to ease the burden on Buss and help ensure the return of Ariza and Odom.
“Guys have done it in the past -- Shaq, [Kevin] Garnett, Tim Duncan,” Jackson said. “That’s an option that Kobe does hold, but my advice to him is that he has to do what he feels is right for himself, obviously. I wouldn’t advise him one way or the other. I do want him to actively pursue and actively encourage these guys to come back, though, which he will.”
Bryant said it was “extremely critical” to re-sign both forwards, though he declined to discuss the possibility of signing for less money.
“No idea,” he said, trying to suppress a smile. “I can’t even read.”
Meanwhile, Jackson said there was “no doubt” his option of returning for an 18th season of NBA coaching would be swayed toward the positive if a series of medical checkups showed a clean bill of health.
Jackson is contractually required to decide near NBA draft day, which is Thursday, though the team will give him a few extra weeks.
Jackson, 63, missed a game in Portland late in the regular season because of painful swelling in his lower right leg. He also has had both hips replaced and underwent an angioplasty procedure in 2003 to open a clogged artery in his heart.
“There’s a couple appointments I still have that have to be made and fulfilled before I can make that decision,” Jackson said. “I’m feeling good. It’s been great.”
Jackson has an option for $12 million next season.
Money and mathematics aside, the Lakers took one last look at their accomplishments this season.
Bryant seethed at his exit meeting two years ago after the Lakers were dumped in the first round by Phoenix, though he said he would have “no evil flashbacks” during an off-season in which he plans to get plenty of rest. He has no basketball obligations on his schedule after spending the last three summers fulfilling a commitment to Team USA.
“Everything’s very positive,” Bryant said. “Just enjoying some time off, doing different activities and just enjoying the summer.”
As for Kupchak, it’s the end of his most memorable season as a general manager.
“When we were on Chick Hearn Way in the parade and we made that right-hand turn onto Figueroa and it was just like 40, 50 deep in people, that was emotional,” he said.
It’s for you
Jackson discussed a Thursday afternoon phone conversation he had with President Obama.
“We talked about some basketball things and he obviously wanted to congratulate us on a great season,” said Jackson, who also threw in a political one-liner. “Basically, I told him that sometimes when you’re lefty, you’ve got to go right to shoot the ball.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
- These NBA taxes are anything but luxurious. They’re kind of a headache to understand too.
- The Lakers had a payroll of $78.3 million for the 2008-09 season, well over the NBA’s soft salary cap of $58.68 million and also over the more important number to them -- the luxury-tax threshold of $71.15 million.
- The Lakers’ payroll was $7.15 million over the luxury-tax trigger, meaning the team will pay an additional $7.15 million in penalties because of a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.
- It’s a penalty that could be even higher for them next season.
- And the Lakers have already committed $74 million to eight players on their 2009-10 payroll and will face a much larger luxury-tax hit if they re-sign free-agent forwards Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom.
- Next month, the NBA will announce its figures for the salary cap and luxury-tax threshold for the 2009-10 season. Both are expected to decline, which means the Lakers would owe even more luxury taxes if the tax trigger is lowered by, say, a few million dollars.
- The money collected by the NBA from teams that pay luxury taxes is evenly distributed to teams that are under the tax threshold.
-- Mike Bresnahan