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Some criticized Kobe for not taking a larger pay cut at a point in his career when his skills are diminishing.
In an SI cover story by Chris Ballard, one anonymous GM said Kobe had "zero" trade value because of his salary.
According to Ballard, Kobe had ideological reasons for taking his extension. He believes star players are underpaid because of the league's strict maximum contract rules, and he signed his deal as a show of defiance.
"Bryant believes that players like himself and LeBron James are underpaid, compared to what they would be worth on the free market (he told friends he thinks James would be worth roughly $75 million on an open market). With his last contract, he felt it was important to demonstrate to younger players that you should never take less than you’re worth. When I asked if he was taking a stand of sorts, this was his response:
"'If you’re talking just from a business perspective, yeah.'"
"As athletes, especially as public figures, you get the pressure of playing for the love of the game, they always throw that around all the time. Of course you play for the love of the game! But do owners buy teams for the love of the game?"
The NBA is a star-driven league. In no other sport can a single player swing the fate of a franchise so easily. Yet the NBA has rules in place to suppress their salaries.
Under the new CBA, the NBA caps maximum salaries at around 30% of the salary cap with 7.5% annual raises. That means LeBron James is only allowed to make around $20 million in 2014-15.
Estimates for what LeBron should and would get paid on the open market are all over the place. Kobe says $75 million. One stat says $44.8 million. Another stat says $31 million. But ultimately they're all more than $20 million.
Ultimately LeBron would be worth however much an NBA owner is willing to pay him, and considering some of the free-spending owners coming into the league, that number might be higher than we think.
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