A cause for concern and huge contracts
by rick olivares
Kobe Bryant is on the injury list again. The Los Angeles Lakers All-World shooting guard is expected to miss up to six weeks because of a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. Bryant re-inured himself during a hard-fought win over the Memphis Grizzlies last December 17.
The latest injury to Bryant, who has been relatively healthy for his entire 17-year NBA career, comes after rupturing his Achilles tendon late last season. He has only played in six games this season where he averaged 13.8 points (his career average is 25.5 points per game). The Lakers went 2-4 in that time.
Bryant’s injury much to the woe of Laker fans and doomsayers is coming off the heels of a two-year contract extension believed to be worth close to $50 million (that’s $23.5 million for this 2013-14 season and $25 million for the next). The $25 million per annum is reminiscent of what the Chicago Bulls paid Michael Jordan in 1997 and 1998; his last two seasons with the Bulls. Basketball analysts theorized it then as ‘make-up’ money by the Bulls for all that Jordan had done in his previous years in the Windy City.
The difference between Jordan’s extension and Black Mamba’s new contract is that the 35-year old Kobe is coming off his first major injury in his career.
And that brings to mind another key American sports figure in Derek Jeter.
After winning his fifth World Series in New York in 2009, Jeter suffered the worst offensive season of his career by batting .270 (10 home runs to go with 67 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .340).
Following that season, Jeter was able to come away with a $51 million contract spread over three-years.
Despite no longer being New York’s wonder kid – he is 39 years old after all – he finished the 2012 season with the most hits in baseball that year with 216. He got injured in the American League Division Series ending his season. While rehabilitating, the Yankees captain injured his ankle setting the tone for the worst season in his career where he only played in 17 games; by far the fewest in his incredible 19-year career that will ultimately see him in Cooperstown.
Despite his poor season, Jeter was re-signed to a one-year $12 million contract that from the looks of it will be his last. It allows him to leave the game on his own terms very much like teammate Mariano Rivera did this past baseball campaign.
And that brings us back to Bryant and even Derrick Rose.
After Rose collected his Most Valuable Player Award during the 2010-11 season, he took the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Miami Heat.
In December of that year, Rose signed a five-year $94 million contract with Chicago. But he played in only 39 games the following season. He tore his left ACL in Game One of the first round of the Eastern playoffs. That caused him to miss the entire 2012-13 season where he was criticized as not coming back when doctors cleared him to play.
The 6’3” Rose looked to return with a vengeance this season as he looked like his old self. But disaster struck last November 22 in a game against the Portland Trailblazers when Rose injured his right knee this time. His season was once more prematurely over.
Kobe for sure will have to look at Rose’ fate when he makes his return. A crafty veteran who relies more on his jumper has now replaced the Bryant of yesteryear when he used to dunk with wild abandon. Age and injuries do make a player change their game to what their body can only do.
There’s no telling what kind of player Bryant will be when he returns. Will he play a little more tentatively?
The reaction on cyberspace shows that most decry the contract paid to Bryant. But hindsight is 20/20.
Bryant should retire a Los Angeles Laker (and maybe even arguably the greatest Laker of all time). The torch has clearly been passed to LeBron James. For Bryant, it is pretty obvious that the veteran gunslinger feels he has one more fight in him. He’d like to go out in a blaze of glory.