COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers have numerous challenges and question marks facing the team following a disappointing exit from the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were the better team in the Western Conference Semifinals, and when considering their collective youth, that doesn't bode well for the short-term viability of the Lakers' championship aspirations.
With luxury tax issues, an aging roster, and a gaping hole at point guard, there aren't many solutions for general manager Mitch Kupchak to improve the team significantly.
Kobe Bryant has the power to save the day, this time off the court, by taking a pay cut and freeing up space to get some help. His base salary for the next two seasons will be roughly $28 and $30 million, respectively, and will hit the Lakers deeply on the salary cap.
"Note: NBA players’ contracts cannot be restructured in the traditional sense, but may be renegotiated downward under the new CBA, according to HoopsWorld.com."
Here are five reasons why he should seriously consider taking a pay cut (along with the reasons he probably won't):
Kobe Bryant has been an enigmatic figure since he entered the NBA in 1996. He was perceived as selfish and cocky, with little regard for making other players around him better for the good of the team.
Then, as he started to mature and move past much of that perception following three NBA titles from 2000-2002, a sexual assault accusation derailed his quest to improve his image.
If he were to show the ultimate sign of solidarity and come to Lakers management to restructure his contract, he would immediately alter his reputation as a selfish player. Fans who already adore him would have more reason to, and some of his critics may have a change of heart.
Why it won't happen: Simply put, Kobe has never cared about public perception to the point where it affects his decision-making on or off the court. Given his career accomplishments, can you blame him?
The Lakers need help in the worst way. The most glaring need is at the point guard position, where Ramon Sessions declined his player option in order to test free agency. He will likely be more expensive to re-sign if the team chooses to make a run at him.
The league-worst bench (20.5 points per game in 2011-2012) needs an overhaul, and the team must get younger and more athletic.
All of these needs will require money that the Lakers just don't have.
Why it won't happen: Bryant likely won't feel any responsibility to sacrifice his own paycheck when he knows it's the job of management (that he's had rocky relationship with in years' past) to improve the team. Some of the onus lies in the failed Chris Paul trade, which the NBA and David Stern vetoed.
Also of note is that no one forced the Lakers to trade Lamar Odom for virtually nothing.
Last Chance to Win a Title
It's no secret that Bryant is entering the twilight of his career. Because of this, the team around him needs to be stronger than it has been in years past.
Again, that will require some capital.
Though there's no telling what the team will look like in the coming months, Andrew Bynum figures to be in the picture moving forward if fans read between the lines following Jim Buss' remarks on ESPN Radio on May 31.
If Bryant is going to make a run at a sixth ring, he's going to need a supporting cast that is capable of meshing well with both he and Bynum, and that will involve investing in players via free agency that can contribute immediately. There's no time to develop young budding talent that may benefit the Lakers far down the line.
Why it won't happen: The last chance for Bryant to win a title is also his last chance to earn a major NBA paycheck. If he takes less money, he'll likely be missing out on that opportunity for good.
LeBron Did It -- and It Worked
Critics have rightly slammed "The Decision", which was done in poor taste. But one aspect lost among all of the hatred is that LeBron James effectively took less money to come to the Miami Heat as a result. Had he stayed in Cleveland, his paycheck would have been much larger than the current $18 million he is slated to make over the course of the 2012-2013 season.
It clearly paid off, and the Heat are NBA champions because of it.
James' incredible basketball talent will always give fans fodder to associate him with Bryant, so comparing the two from a financial standpoint makes sense. Could Kobe follow LeBron's lead and sacrifice money for another title?
Why it won't happen: As great as these two players are, their gifts on the basketball court are about the only thing they share. In terms of personality, they are far different.
Face the Inevitable
Two years from now, there will be potential for an awkward impasse between Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers that will be consistent with that of any aging superstar in sports history.
if Bryant still wishes to play, the two sides likely won't agree on how much he has left or his value to the team, and that will result in a bitter divorce between player and franchise in some manner.
All of this could be avoided, though, if they get the hard part over with now and restructure Bryant's current contract.
It could save the Lakers franchise in the process.
Why it won't happen: Bryant said following the Game 5 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder that he was not going to "fade into the shadows." That pretty much says it all.
Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo Featured Contributor in Sports and covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He has written for Southern California's Press-Enterprise and Examiner.com. You can follow him on Twitter.