Clarifying Bryant

In this case, the Lakers DON’T want the phone to ring. Well, not exactly the phone. But the buzzer outside their offices in El Segundo where a courier would’ve delivered the certified mail indicating Kobe Bryant had decided to terminate his contract.

Indications are that Bryant is not terminating his contract and will play for $23 million next season, as scheduled.

With some player option contract situations, the player has to exercise his option on the contract. Basically an “opt-in.” In this case, it would be an opt-out. Which means no news is good news for the Lakers.

Here’s where it gets kind of funny. There was a bit of confusion about the deadline for such action to take place. It’s normally 5 p.m. ET but in Bryant’s case, according to a Lakers spokesperson, the phrasing is simply, “by the end of the day.” The spokesperson said that the Lakers are interpreting that to mean midnight.

I had originally expected Bryant to opt-out and negotiate a new 5-year contract because it makes the most financial sense, with the least risk. But after making some calls around the league, I realize exactly what this is about: Leverage.

Why opt-out now when there is no leverage to be gained? The Lakers would of course give him the max extension without many questions asked. And all indications are that the team is willing to pay to keep free agents Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown.

But next summer — which had been known as the summer of LeBron (and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, etc) — there is plenty of leverage to be gained by opting out. Bryant would likely want some say in who the Lakers next coach will be (if Phil Jackson retires), some say in which free agents the team targets the following summer, and… would like to see how the NBA landscape shifts after LeBron & Co. make up their minds. If, for example, LeBron and Bosh head to the Knicks to create a monster team in New York, would Bryant want to stand pat in LA?

By staying with the Lakers another year, Bryant assumes the normal risk of injury, but he gains a ton more leverage for his next contract.