Sunday , Apr , 04 , 2010 Oly Sandor

End of Zen: Kobe Bryant’s extension complicates Phil Jackson’s return as L.A. Lakers’ coach

The Quick Hit: There are many theories on the Los Angeles Lakers’ recent struggles.

Perhaps, they’re bored having all but locked up first in the Western Conference standings. Perhaps, players are distracted by the trappings of Hollywood. Perhaps, they miss injured giant Andrew Bynum more than they care to acknowledge. Perhaps, Kobe Bryant’s on-going contract negotiations and unknown future was unsettling. And perhaps, tension exists between Bryant and Pau Gasol over shots and touches.

Well, scratch the last two off the list.

Yesterday, Bryant inked a three-year, $90 million extension with the Lakers, removing one of basketball’s biggest names from the list of free agent superstars who’ll hit the open market July 1st.

With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems Bryant and the club were always on the same page regarding a new contract. On some level, New York must have been appealing, but the Knicks, even with the cap space to tender two max’ contracts, are less talented than the Lakers and, in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, can’t offer as lucrative a pact.

Leaving L.A. was never a real, tangible possibility. Continuing their highly successful partnership was.

Of course, Bryant, as the franchise face and lead dog, never re-ups if he has serious concerns about Gasol. A little friction is natural, and probably healthy, when working in such a close, intense, pressure-packed environment.

These two understand the bigger picture. Bryant knows he can’t feud with Gasol after his World Wars with Shaquille O’Neal. And Gasol, after languishing on some awful Memphis Grizzly teams, can’t take issue with Bryant’s shot selection since playing with Black Mamba provides an opportunity to win a championship each year.

These two also understand, and are clearly comfortable, with their fates being intertwined. For instance, Bryant’s contract expires at the end of the 2012-13 season, exactly when Gasol’s multi-year deal comes off the Lakers’ books.

While Bryant’s contract quiets some of the speculation in Laker-nation, it adds fuel to the fiery rumour Coach Phil Jackson won’t return. Bryant loves Jackson, but ownership, the males in the Buss clan, is balking at doling out another eight figures for the Zen-Master’s services.

Bryant, by signing his contract now and not waiting, has less leverage and can’t force ownership to give Jackson another year extension with a raise on his $12 million salary. So rumors about the Hall of Fame sideline boss will continue.

Keeping a once in a generation player, such as Bryant, should be good news. Nothing is easy or simple with the Lakers, though. Now the speculation, gossip, and conjecture will simply shift from Bryant to Jackson.

What does Bryant’s extension say about his relationship with Gasol? What impact does it have on Jackson? Get at us in the comment box below. Image courtesy of Frank@Here.

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