So is Kobe Bryant overpaid?

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
11:12
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The Wages of Wins Journal, home of statnik David Berri, believes so. Kobe Bryant graded out as the NBA's second most overpaid player on their annual Top 10 list, published in partnership with CNBC.

Using their metric of "wins produced" -- click here for a tutorial on the methodology -- Berri and Co.'s calculations say Bryant , who earned $25,244,493 in '11-'12 but by Berri's formula generated only 2.85 wins, was overpaid by $19,693,258. (For the record, the "top" spot went to Washington's Rashard Lewis, who earned -- or more accurately was issued contractually required payments for -- $21,136,630, overpaid in Berri's estimation by a robust $21,167,231, about $30K more than his salary. Think of that the next time you kick yourself for spending a little too much on a pair of shoes.)

Writes Berri/CNBC about Bryant:
"Kobe Bryant is a basketball legend, and as such many people may bristle at his inclusion on this list. However, Berri contends that the player’s sterling reputation is something of a mirage. “The media says Kobe was one of the best players in the game in 2011-12,” he said “But the numbers tell a different story.”

According to Berri, Bryant’s scoring simply comes down to the fact that he takes a lot of shots. “But in contrast to past years, Kobe’s shooting efficiency was below average for a shooting guard, and inefficient shooting doesn’t produce wins,” he said. “However, if you take enough shots you can still score enough points to convince fans – and the media – that you are actually helping a team win.”

But doesn’t Bryant’s star power attract enough fans to help the team’s bottom line? No, according to Berri. “The study of gate revenue reveals that it is wins that drive revenue. Star power is far less important.”

A few thoughts, beyond feeling fairly certain Berri will get some angry emails from the Los Angeles area. First, his final comment -- that Bryant's production isn't beneficial to the team's bottom line, is absurd. The Lakers have the brand strength they do in large part because of their success and their star power, and for over well over a decade Kobe has been a driving force for both. Ticket sales at home and on the road, their massive television deal, a lucrative radio contract, extensive sponsorships, and so on - Kobe plays a role in all of it. Even if stars don't drive gate receipts, Bryant has brought wins, too. Either way, he's a catalyst for the massive interest in the team around the world.

So from that standpoint, the Lakers have nothing to complain about and certainly Bryant, among the greatest to ever play the game, has earned his money and then some.

But -- and you could probably feel the "but" coming -- whether you're accepting of Berri's particular methodology or not (also landing in his top 10 are Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams), purely from a salary-vs.-production standpoint, relative to the rest of the league Bryant today is overpaid, even after finishing fourth in MVP voting. Next season, he'll make a hair under $28 million. Nowitzki will be the next closest star at $20.9 mil. Dwight Howard gets $19.2. The Clippers will give Chris Paul $17.8 million. Kevin Durant will earn $17.5, as will LeBron James. In Chicago, Derrick Rose will make $15.5 million. Meaning Kobe, still very much elite but no longer the game's best player, earns anywhere from 25 to 45 percent more than other luminaries. Next season, by himself he'll eat up somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 percent of L.A.'s cap figure, and potentially more in 2013-14 when his salary rises to over $30 million.

By comparison, James constitutes about 30 percent of Miami's cap.

Bryant's salary, a max deal held over from the previous collective bargaining era, outstrips his ability to match it from a productivity standpoint. It's not a criticism of his game. Given the restrictions and penalties for teams exceeding the cap and tax thresholds under the new CBA, it's debatable whether any player is worth that kind of premium.

Compounding the problem, the same principle applies to Pau Gasol. He'll make about $19 million next season, and while I may be a Pau honk -- he was much more effective this season than given credit -- I don't believe he's better than James, Durant, or CP3, just to name a few. Yet he'll be paid like one of the league's five or six best players.

Those contracts are totally prehistoric from a CBA standpoint and the imbalance they create in L.A.'s pay structure are a major issue. The Lakers will try to solve part of the problem this summer, putting Gasol back on the block. They can't support paying someone in his role at his salary when there are so many needs around the roster. But even if they manage a quality trade for Gasol -- no guarantee -- Kobe's contract is still a burden from a roster construction standpoint. Basically, the goal of building a championship caliber team around Bryant over the next couple seasons will be hindered by all the stuff the Lakers did building a championship caliber team around Bryant over the last half decade or so, while rewarding Kobe for his efforts.

This isn't a call to amnesty Kobe, or try to convince him to waive his no-trade clause so the Lakers can move him. Many Lakers fans will object to classifying Kobe as "overpaid," and depending on the definition would have a point. Still, while I wouldn't call Kobe the league's second most overpaid player, relative to other stars in the league it's very difficult to argue Bryant's salary is in line with his performance, and in combination with Gasol's big deal constitutes a serious challenge for the front office this summer and next.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 9.7
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksP. Gasol 1.5