Reason #1: The Los Angeles Laker franchise owes it to Kobe Bryant to set him free.
Even before Kobe's Achilles injury, the Lakers were no longer contenders for the foreseeable future. Whether Dwight Howard signs a long-term deal to stay or not, the Lakers don't have a first round draft pick this year, and Kobe wants title #6 more than anything. Letting him go allows Kobe to rehab and return sometime early in 2014 if all goes well. While the 29 other teams could make a "partial claim" this summer on Kobe's amnesty status (nobody would be able to make the full claim- absorbing his full contract), Kobe could avoid being claimed by a bad team by making it clear that he would just sit out the entire year, continue to "rehab" and collect the $30 million from the Lakers.
Then a team, say Orlando, would be stuck paying, for example, $7 million for a guy who doesn't play all year. In essence, Kobe could "sign" with a serious contender of his choosing this summer by having his agent control the bidding. He could end up with the Knicks, Spurs, Thunder, or whomever else is well-positioned to win it all. Then he would be a free agent in the summer of 2014, and if he wanted to keep playing and return to the Lakers, he could, albeit for an incredibly smaller salary. The amnesty rules allow a player to return to his original team after the current contract expires. Kobe's contract terminates at the end of the 2013-14 season.
Reason #2: The Lakers will save at least $30 million in luxury tax payments, and almost incredibly, up to over $100 million. I'm no cap expert, but according to cbafaq.com the Lakers could be paying as much as $5 for every dollar over the cap in 2013-2014. If they remain near $40 million over the cap (they won't), it's cap suicide. As part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement of December, 2011, teams have the one-time right to amnesty a player and, while they still have to pay out his contract, the amount will not count against the salary cap. The Lakers are about $42 million over the cap this season, and are committed to at least that much next season if they're lucky enough to keep Howard with a fat new deal.
Reason #3: As if saving at least $30 million in luxury tax isn't enough, it's possible, according to David Aldridge of NBA.com, that insurance will pay up to 80 percent of Kobe's $30 million salary if he misses all of next season. That would mean if the Lakers amnesty Kobe, they'd save approximately $54 million in tax plus salary covered by insurance. Huge number.
Reason #4: The Lakers still have their first-round pick in the 2014 draft, and landing in the lottery would help rebuild around Howard should he stay. The Lakers would also have cap space to sign a big free agent in the summer of 2014 when a guy named LeBron James becomes a free agent. Even though he'll most likely return to Cleveland or stay in Miami, you never know.
Reason #5: Sadly, no matter how much motivation he has and how he has surprised all of us to compete at this level for so long, Kobe has played the equivalent of about 20 regular seasons when you include playoff games. You can cheat Father Time for a while, but not forever. Michael Jordan had to stop. We've seen what the Achilles injury did to Chauncey Billups. You have to believe Kobe will never be the same. His game depends on his ability to free himself.
If only Jeanie Buss could have amnestied her brother Jim before he hired coach Mike D'Antoni. The story is well known -- he could have had Phil Jackson. Jackson never would have driven Kobe into the ground. And thus with the death of owner Dr. Jerry Buss, Shaq's jersey retirement, Jim Buss passing on Phil's return, and Kobe's devastating injury, the Lakers move into a brave new world, hopefully on the shoulders of Dwight Howard.
It's the only way to move forward. Hopefully Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak aren't afraid to face reality.
-- Follow Rick Schwartz on Twitter @Rick_Schwartz.
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