Will the deal cost the Lakers their chances to land top free agents in 2014 and 2015? Will it help them or hurt them in their quest to win a 17th championship? Our 5-on-5 panel dissects Kobe's extension and the Lakers' outlook.
1. Good deal or bad deal for the Lakers?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: I heard some talk about a three- or four-year deal at numbers like his old $30 million salary. By comparison, two years closer to $20 million per year is wonderful for the Lakers. For his career, the Lakers owe him far more than they have been allowed to pay him. For the next two years, he'll be so overpaid he'll keep them from contending -- maybe that's a fair trade in the big picture.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Bad deal. Of course, I agree with bringing Kobe back, but not for $24 million per year. While the Lakers still have cap room for a max player, they could have brought Kobe back for $15 million per (or less) and had room to add more pieces.
Larry Coon, ESPN Insider: Good deal, but not the best deal they could have hoped for. Now that it looks like Kobe will return healthy, they've locked up the face and cornerstone of the franchise for an additional two seasons -- which is certainly a good thing. But they also have a plan to rebuild the roster for the post-Kobe era -- and the more they give to Kobe, the less they have available to retool. Giving $23.5 million to Kobe next season significantly reduces their spending power.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: If the Lakers have serious title aspirations in the next two seasons, then it is terrible! With numerous pick obligations over the next three seasons and no young prospects to write home about, the Lakers should have treated their cap space with kid gloves ... and that's assuming Bryant is healthy!
Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: Good deal. They're overpaying him, yes. No other team would've given him a maximum contract this summer. But the Lakers had to make this deal, and they had to keep Kobe happy. He means so much to their brand, it would've been reckless to allow him to even sniff free agency when the most likely outcome from next summer is that they don't get any of the superstar free agents who are available. I think they could've got him for less if they'd waited, but so long as they preserved one slot for a max free agent, this deal is fine.
2. Does this move the Lakers closer to or further from an NBA title?
Abbott: The next time the Lakers will be great is when Bryant's massive deal is off the books. This is a league where at least a dozen players are far better, and they all make far less money. There's almost no way for the Lakers to solve that puzzle, especially now that the collective bargaining agreement has closed the loopholes whereby rich teams used to be able to overpay for some other superstar to ride in and save the day.
Broussard: Further, just because it limits the Lakers' flexibility. They need all the cap space they can get because Kobe, at his age, and one other superstar won't bring them a title.
Coon: Further. It was already pretty clear that Kobe would be a Laker next season – the only questions were the timing of his new contract or extension and how much money they'd give him. I don't want to denigrate the gesture of taking a one-third pay cut, but if the Lakers really were going to retool on the fly into a title contender, he needed to take more. The Lakers now have the ability to sign one max guy next summer, but it pretty much takes them out of the market in 2015. Is, say, a Kobe-Melo tandem going to be competing for a title next season? I don't think so.
Elhassan: I'm going to be nice and say equidistant. Looking forward, the Lakers' talent cupboard is bare, and this certainly does not help them in their quest to add talent. But you can make the argument that they never were going to attract top-flight free agents to come to L.A. anyway, so this deal doesn't really hamper their ability to get lower-rung free agents.
Shelburne: This is going to sound crazy, but it moves them closer. If you're real about the situation, the most likely outcome is that they get none of the superstar free agents this summer. If they also lost Kobe, they essentially would have had nothing to work with. Now at least they have him and the hope that he can recruit a top free agent to join him.
3. Should Kobe have taken less money to stay with the Lakers?
Abbott: Should? Who knows. It was never going to happen, though. "Making it easier for the guy who'll take the team over from me" has never been on Bryant's to-do list. In fact, the opposite is more like it: The most treacherous job in sports might be "starring alongside Kobe Bryant." From Shaquille O'Neal to Dwight Howard almost everyone in that job has been savaged in the media, and most have been run out of town, whether they won titles or not. So that minimum deal that would have allowed the Lakers to bring in people to steal the spotlight? It was never going to happen.
Broussard: I don't blame this on Kobe. I think, in the end, he would have taken less money to stay in L.A. But if they offer you a great deal, why not take it?
Coon: The team will have as much as $28.5 million in cap room next summer if it waives Steve Nash and utilizes the stretch provision. But that's without Pau Gasol or any of their other players who are on ending contracts. The less money Kobe took, the more money the team would have left over to keep their own players and chase other teams' free agents. They will have to strip their roster bare in order to sign a free agent such as Carmelo Anthony. If Gasol wants to stay, he will have to take a steep discount -- much steeper than Kobe was willing to accept.
Elhassan: Again, this depends on perspective. I have gone on the record and said that I will never fault a player for trying to maximize his earnings, as they have a limited window of time to make enough cash to last them and their families a lifetime. But at the same time, Bryant has to recognize that any hope of winning a sixth title diminishes dramatically with his new salary.
Shelburne: Yes. If he'd taken something in the $16-18 million range the Lakers would have had enough room to pursue a maximum-level free agent and a player in the $6-8 million range who could help them fill out the roster. A player like Jordan Hill, but the Lakers still have his Bird rights so it may not matter that much. What this contract does do is put pressure on the Lakers to waive and stretch Nash, who has $9.7 remaining on his contract.
4. What free agent is most likely to sign with L.A. in 2014 or 2015?
Abbott: The LeBron talk is a pipe dream -- his last free agency wisely hinged on partnering with a stable, title-ready owner, which he found in Micky Arison. The Lakers used to have one of those! But these days the Lakers front office is more like "Game of Thrones." Paul George was the big hope, but he passed up the chance to be a Lakers star by re-upping in Indiana. My belief is that Carmelo Anthony is the only big-name candidate who might be available.
Coon: LeBron James is looking like a pipe dream at this point. All signs point to Anthony being their principal target in 2014. And with Kobe and a player like Melo on the books in 2014, they are effectively removed from the 2015 market, when a player like Kevin Love could be available. Ironically, the Lakers could find themselves in a very similar situation in a couple seasons -- with an aging superstar (Melo) and the need to retool the roster in order to compete.
Elhassan: With the type of projected cap space L.A. will have, the Lakers will have an easier time pursuing and overpaying a restricted free agent coming off of the rookie scale. Offering a fully guaranteed max deal to an Eric Bledsoe, Gordon Hayward or Greg Monroe might get the trick done. Otherwise, you're looking at overpaying midlevel-type players, such as Kyle Lowry, Spencer Hawes or Lance Stephenson. Maybe Rudy Gay if he opts out?
Shelburne: The Lakers think they have a shot at both LeBron and Anthony. Personally, I think guys such as Deng and Danny Granger are the most realistic options. I'd guess they're also more likely to re-sign Gasol at a discount as they have his Bird rights.
5. In your opinion, what matters most to Kobe?
Abbott: Buckets. When it's good for his team, he'll shoot it. When it's bad for his team, he'll shoot it. It's who he is. His longtime trainer and confidante Tim Grover wrote a book called "Relentless," which explains: "Ask Kobe what he does, and he says, 'I give out numbers.' Numbers? 'Yep, I gave them eighty-one, I gave them a triple double, I gave these guys sixty-one …' People love to comment on how he doesn't pass enough, but his job is to score points and give out those numbers, and that's what he does."
Broussard: Definitely winning titles. Thing is: Kobe has so much belief in himself that he still believes he can lead a team to a title, even at 35 and coming off an Achilles tear. I'm sure he thinks he only needs one max guy to help him win a ring.
Coon: A lot of things matter to Kobe. The salary, obviously -- not just for the money itself, but also its value as a measuring stick. He has repeatedly stated that winning rings is important. Then there's the all-time scoring title, and allegiance to the only NBA franchise he has known. It's not unreasonable for someone to want it all. Taking such a big pay cut is a gesture that shouldn't be overlooked -- it's certainly more than I've ever given up. I think the best answer to this question is that he's a man who feels the tug of a lot of competing, mutually-exclusive interests.
Elhassan: When you hear the terms of Bryant's extension expressed as "highest-paid player", it's hard not to assume that this was what was most important to him: retaining his alpha male status in the league. Taking a $6 million "pay cut" in this situation is akin to emptying a bucket of water off the Titanic. I think retiring a Laker was also very important to him, but it's hard to see how he couldn't have gone the Tim Duncan route and taken a more substantial pay cut in order to field the best possible team.
Shelburne: Legacy. As important as that sixth title would be for him, I think Kobe understands that his greatest legacy -- and by the way the one thing that separates him from Michael Jordan -- is that he can be a Laker for life. That's something only a few players are able to do, even the great ones. Yes, he wants that sixth ring. Yes, he'd do anything to chase it. He will try in L.A., despite the odds. But in the end, the chance to cement his legacy as a Laker for life is what drove this.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Henry Abbott is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Ramona Shelburne writes for ESPN LA. Amin Elhassan and Larry Coon write for ESPN Insider.
• Follow the NBA on ESPN on Twitter | On Facebook | On Google+