On November 26, 2013, Kobe Bryant signed a contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. The two-year deal would pay him $48.5 million over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, presumably the ultimate twilight of his Hall-of-Fame career.
That Bryant’s on-court impact wouldn’t live up to such an exorbitant salary was no secret at the time; he was 35 years old, after all, and in the process of rehabbing from surgery to a torn achilles he’d suffered the previous April. Terms of the five-time champion’s extension were much more about what he’d already done for the Lakers, basically, than anything he would do going forward.
Still, it’s hard to believe Mitch Kupchak and company would have committed so much money to Bryant over the past two years if they’d known he’d spend so much time off the floor due to injuries, aches, and pains, and that the limited time he’d spend on it would be marked more by gross inefficiency and overall ineffectiveness than anything else. Pat Riley and the Miami Heat were watching, obviously, and took a far different approach to another creaky legend’s contract negotiations this summer.
Dwyane Wade’s ensuing move to the Chicago Bulls probably didn’t shock LeBron James and Chris Paul. Why? Not only because the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers superstars are close friends with Wade, but because they apparently couldn’t believe the Heat would let a franchise icon like Wade consider walking away from South Beach.
There were external factors that influenced Miami’s contract talks with Wade, of course, most notably the team being forced to go under the cap to re-sign Hassan Whiteside. The Heat surely would have made the player who helped them to three championships whole if doing so meant no accompanying personnel changes. But that wasn’t an option, so Wade left Miami after 13 seasons.
Are LeBron and Paul right about what their friend should have received from the Heat? In a vacuum, maybe. Wade has done arguably as much for the Heat as any other peer has for his franchise since the new millennium. Free agency is a layered exercise, though, and Miami’s chief summer goals made sacrificing Wade a legitimate possibility. The bigger problem from the super-friends’ standpoint, then, should be that locking down one of their own for good wasn’t the Heat’s utmost priority to begin with.