September 23, 2011
Kobe Bryant(notes) has been offered $6.7 million to play for Virtus Bologna, an Italian team. The contract can be stripped-down to a per-game pay scale, and he can leave the squad should the NBA lockout ever end. Better yet, Bryant was raised in the country. Honestly, what's not to like?
If the NBA season is to start on time, the two sides embroiled in this current lockout have quite a bit of work to do over the next few weeks. Most peg a cutoff spot to cancel the rest of the preseason and possibly the first few weeks of the regular season as some date in mid-October, and though we're hearing encouraging on-record winks and nods from within this mess, both sides still have a fair amount of cohesion to develop within their particular ranks before they can actually come to an agreement as to what they're fighting for.
In the meantime, Kobe could jet off to Italy. No strings attached.
Bryant was raised in Italy, growing up there before returning to suburban Philadelphia to finish his high school career. His father Joe "Jellybean" Bryant was a star of sorts over there, and Kobe grew up idolizing Knick coach and former Italian league star Mike D'Antoni. So to play in the country on a per-month or even per-game basis with an out for once the lockout ends? Where's the issue with that?
Virtus Bologna general manager Massimo Faraoni tells The Associated Press he's been on conference calls between Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, Bologna president Claudio Sabatini and main sponsor Canadian Solar, which would provide the cash for such a deal.
"I think the fact that he's lived in Italy makes this appealing to him," Faraoni said.
Virtus has given Bryant four different contract options, stretching from the one-year deal to two-month and one-month options, and a per-game deal that would come out to $739,640 per home game.
All of the offers are pretax and would allow Bryant to return to the Lakers immediately if the lockout ends.
I see only three reasons why Kobe Bryant would not want to make the jump.
The most obvious and most relatable is the fact that he has a family, with kids in school, and jumping overseas would either mean leaving his family for an extended spell, or uprooting the entire clan. Sad wonks in the comment section can crack wise considering Kobe's past, but by all indications the man is a committed father, and this is no easy task for a player with a family, regardless of his history with the country.
Secondly? The guy was dragging around his right knee last year, undergoing midseason operations that weren't widely reported at the time to drain fluid and keep him somewhat short of teeth-gnashingly in pain for short stretches before the burn came back again. Nobody has logged heavier NBA hours since 1996, when Bryant entered the league, and it's not even close. The guy could use the time off, even if the NBA season starts on time.
Finally, he's been a Laker for life. And in spite of flirting with the Clippers and Bulls back in 2004, and asking for a trade three years later, Bryant has stayed committed to that ideal. It's a rare one, these days, with free agency, age, and bad basketball decisions (by the team or player) leading to a nomadic lifestyle for even Hall of Fame-level players, and Kobe is the rare modern player that stands out.
It seems like the perfect out. His old league, in a way. His old country. A good chunk of change (though around a quarter of what he would make in the NBA this year), and the ability to play the game he's clearly obsessed with at a level that at least approximates NBA ball. And the freedom to jump back to the NBA once he gets a text from Roger Mason(notes) Jr.
How far away is an end to this lockout? In terms of negotiations? Far, far away. Again, both sides have plenty of work to do in-house, determining a cogent and consistent message, before even returning to the table. But that doesn't mean the chains haven't been moved.
The owners' number, one of the people familiar with the details said, represented a willingness to move off their most recent formal proposal to cap player salaries at $2 billion a year for the bulk of a 10-year proposal. So, do the math: Assuming 4 percent revenue growth next season to $3.95 billion, the owners' $2 billion proposal represented roughly 50.5 percent of BRI for the players. If the players were willing to go down to, say, 53 percent with assurances that a soft cap would remain in place, that would be $2.094 billion -- leaving the two sides only $94 million apart in the first year of the deal.
Given that the owners moved off their $2 billion to somewhere between that and the players' number, we're talking about perhaps as little as $75 million per year holding up the future of the NBA. That's why, as one person familiar with the talks said Thursday, a deal is "there for the taking."
That last part is significant, as Tom Ziller pointed out on Friday, especially if the source is coming correct.
If the owners are backing off a hard cap (which, given increased revenue, could actually benefit the players down the line) and the players keep handing big bucketfuls of cash back to the owners that wildly sent bigger and bigger bucketfuls of cash to the players for years, then we could see an uneasy truce and a saved 82-game season.
If it's a 10-year deal, then this could potentially be a terrible deal for both sides. But most good deals, overall at least, are. You want both sides walking away mad. The question is, will they do it on Oct. 12, Jan. 5, or Aug. 27 of 2012?
And, in the meantime, will Kobe Bryant be jetting away from Los Angeles?
We don't know. But the offer sure looks pretty good.
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