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Bryant tweets speak to fellow stars

It may seem that Kobe Bryant was mad when he grabbed his iPhone after leaving the Verizon Center and sounded off on Twitter late Tuesday night.

As though he was irritated and defensive about the backlash he's been hearing from fans and pundits, and whispers around the NBA, since he signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday morning. Or maybe that his famously stubborn pride was a little wounded from the insinuations that he didn't deserve to be the NBA's highest-paid player anymore.

But read Bryant's tweets all the way to the hashtags, and you have to wonder whether the hearts and minds he was trying to affect with those tweets were those of his peers, not his 3.8 million Twitter followers.

"The cap rules players have to be "selfless" on To "help" BILLIONAIRE owners R the same cap rules the owners LOCKED US out to put in #think ," Bryant tweeted.

"Don't just learn ur sport . . . Learn the sports industry #futureathletes"

"Btw lakers have max cap space and then some #mitchissharp #bussfamsharp #lakers"

OK, maybe that last one was for the fans. But the first two, the tweets in which Bryant appeals directly to "#futureathletes" to "#think," sound like a call to action, a plea to fellow NBA superstars, an appeal to those whose earning power and freedom of choice have been most affected by the most recent NBA collective bargaining agreement.

Bryant no doubt expected there would be public backlash after he signed his new deal. While it's possible to argue that $48.5 million over two seasons is considerably less than the value he will bring to the Lakers organization and brand as the face of the franchise over the same period, such an argument is of little interest to the average NBA fan.

The players learned during the 2011 lockout that fans have little sympathy for the complaints of millionaires against billionaires.

"The fans, God bless them," Bryant said Wednesday in a meeting with reporters in Washington D.C. "They're fans and they have good intentions and kind of a good spirit about it, but I don't think they understand the cap or what strategically they're trying to do better than the Lakers do."

If his Tuesday night tweets are any indication, what Bryant may not have anticipated was how his peers would be so blasé in their reaction to the Lakers' show of loyalty and respect for a superstar's value. Not just his value, but any superstar's value to a franchise.

Yes, there were the occasional "Congratulations" and "Happy for yous" from around the league. LeBron James said a few nice things. So did Carmelo Anthony. But where were the defenses of his worth, the arguments from current and former players that the top flight of NBA players are underpaid relative to the value they bring to their franchises?

The rest of the league, particularly the rest of the superstars in the league, were mostly silent. And in a public forum like this, silence speaks volumes.

It reinforces an idea that likely worked against the players in their negotiations with the league in 2011: Individuals are reluctant to deal with the backlash of speaking up, and are cautious to protect their own brands with advertisers.

Bryant's tweets seem to argue that players, particularly superstars, need to remain united and remain aware that league owners will push for further concessions in future rounds of labor negotiations.

In 2011, the players agreed to give up the concept of true free agency in favor of a higher percentage of overall league revenues. A superstar player essentially has to get himself traded to the team he wants to play for in order to maximize his value. And even that value has been greatly curtailed, thanks to a series of reforms to the rookie pay scale and subsequent extensions that push players into restricted free agency as a way of encouraging them to remain with the teams that drafted them without going on the open market.

It's not just a player issue, either. In recent years, league owners have shown a willingness to give less experienced and less expensive coaches the reins while some proven but more expensive coaches, like George Karl, Lionel Hollins and Phil Jackson, remain without jobs. The NBA Coaches Association recently held high-level discussions with several top coaching agents to explore and understand why a record 13 coaches were fired after the 2012-2013 season.

The issues may not seem connected, but fundamentally, there has been a devaluation of stars -- both coaches and players -- in the NBA, both financially and in the power they can wield.

It is no doubt a reaction to the monumental power play James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh pulled off in summer 2010, as well as a desire to replicate NFL-style parity with 30 engaged and empowered fan bases, and to increase reliance on analytics as a tool for constructing and predicting a team's expected success.

Coaches don't seem to matter that much, when you crunch the numbers. A few wins a year, maybe. Not enough to justify paying one guy three times as much as another guy. So when you're looking for areas to help balance the books, coaching and front-office salaries are an easy target. So too are player salaries, which is why the owners fought so hard to curb them during the lockout.

When the Lakers cut against these grains by giving Bryant $48.5 million as a show of loyalty and acknowledging his value to the Lakers brand, it's about far more than one player and one contract.

It's about whether all of the owners are going to hold the line on the new world order they tried to set in motion during the lockout.

The Lakers thumbed their noses at it with Bryant's new contract, opting instead to operate like they always have.

They surely knew the rest of the league would criticize them for it. But they also no doubt knew that the type of superstars whom they've partnered with to build their brand and win 16 NBA titles would appreciate such a show of loyalty and respect. That the new contract might act as a signal to the very free agents the Lakers need to lure to Los Angeles to replace Bryant. That they still value star power, as perhaps no other franchise ever has.

Bryant did two things by signing his extension: He fortified his partnership with the Lakers for life, and he accepted the responsibility of helping them succeed after he's retired.

It's part of his job to help make the Lakers model sustainable and successful.

So you know what, maybe that last tweet wasn't for the fans, either.

"Btw lakers have max cap space and then some #mitchissharp #bussfamsharp #lakers"

That just might be the new pitch, and Bryant the new pitchman.