Kobe Bryant has long maintained that winning a title is his only goal for each and every season. The All-Star guard has talked about playing at least three more years, to pad his "ring count."
Would he be willing to take a pay cut, like Tim Duncan did for the San Antonio Spurs or Kevin Garnett for the Boston Celtics -- both taking less than half of their maximum salaries?
How far would Bryant go?
Would he make the most dramatic financial sacrifice conceivable in 2014, taking a one-year minimum salary of $1.45 million to give the Lakers their absolute best chance to rebuild quickly in the wake of Dwight Howard's departure?
If Bryant is willing to make a sizable leap of faith, the Lakers might have the tools they need to manipulate the salary cap -- within the rules -- to an extreme advantage.
After a year with Bryant at the minimum, the Lakers would still have his "Bird rights," enabling the team to pay Bryant a maximum salary of $19.5 million for the 2015-16 season.
Averaged over two years, Bryant's sacrifice would be $10.5 million a season.
The catch for Bryant is that the Lakers won't be able to promise him that second year at the maximum. A pre-arranged deal would be illegal under the rules.
But if Bryant were to put his trust in the organization that traded for him in 1996, he could dramatically alter his chances at another title.
With just Steve Nash on the books for 2014-15, Bryant's maximum salary of $32 million would leave the Lakers with about $15.3 million in cap space (if they renounced the rights to Pau Gasol and the rest of the team's upcoming free agents). That's just not enough to rebuild the team properly.
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At the minimum, Bryant would take up just $915,243 of the team's cap space, opening up $46.4 million in space with Bryant and Nash.
The Times has already broached two possible targets in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. James may be a long shot but Marc Berman of the New York Post writes that the Lakers could be a real option for Anthony. Both All-Star forwards would need to opt out of their contracts to become free agents.
The odds of even one coming to L.A. may be long, but the Lakers would have the space to take on both in 2014 if Bryant was signed at the minimum.
Paying James and Anthony around $20 million each in their first year could enable the Lakers to have up to $16.5 million in cap space in 2015, opening the door to players like Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo or LaMarcus Aldridge.
Because Bryant's "cap hold" in 2015 would be a meager $947,000, the Lakers could theoretically add two stars in 2014, one in 2015 -- and then re-sign Bryant for his $19.5 million.
A roster with James, Anthony, Love and Bryant would be nearly impossible to assemble, but it's mathematically possible by Bryant taking a minimum contract for 2014, a max deal in 2015 and accepting a $10.5 million average over the two seasons.
Duncan and Garnett both made big sacrifices to help keep their teams competitive. In Duncan's case, he finished the year just seconds away from his fifth championship.
If Bryant takes the same notion to the extreme, he has the power to set some serious possibilities in motion for the Lakers -- short-term sacrifice for another chance at an NBA title.