This has been one of the wildest and most unpredictable free-agency periods in NBA history. There’s the Durant sweepstakes and the insane contracts being signed due to the raised salary cap. But there were two stories everyone pretty much ignored because we figured we knew where they were heading: Dirk Nowitzki opting out of the final year of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks, and Dwyane Wade having contract spats with Pat Riley and the Heat.
We’ve seen these stories before, but it’s been pretty much assumed that no matter what drama comes in the offseason, Dirk and D-Wade would end their careers with the teams that drafted them. Everything seemed to be falling into place when Dirk re-signed with the Mavs for $40 million over two years — a contract that is as much a thanks for taking prior pay cuts for the betterment of the team, as it was a deal for his expected output going forward. Wade was bickering with the Heat, but the general consensus was that he would re-sign. Until he didn’t, and ended up with his hometown Chicago Bulls.
Dirk and Wade’s contracts have set the end of their vocation on vastly different paths, and brings up questions about how franchises should handle their superstars as their careers come to an end. Of course, it’s impossible to discuss this question without talking about how the Lakers decided to send Kobe Bryant off into the sunset or, on the other end of the spectrum — the perfect farewell the Spurs gave Tim Duncan.
There may never be a perfect storm of team/player partnership than the Spurs and the publicity-averse Duncan.
Los Angeles was universally panned when it gave Kobe Bryant a $48.5 million two-year farewell contract to end his career when the former MVP was coming off an injury-shortened season. And it’s easy to see why the contract was so controversial. Giving that kind of money to a player who clearly couldn’t perform like a max player anymore not only hurt the team’s ability to load up on major free agents, but it created an environment where superstars wouldn’t even sit at a table with the Lakers to take a meeting.
As a result, the Lakers have spent the last two seasons in a dumpster, trying to grab franchise draft picks, inexplicably letting walking anachronism Byron Scott coach, and trying to keep the ship afloat with a seemingly inept Jim Buss running player operations. The team’s future resides in the hope that D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram turn into the players that can make the team a playoff contender sometime this decade, and an outside shot at Russell Westbrook coming as a free agent. And it’s possible to tie the Lakers’ current troubles directly back to that Kobe contract.