GM: Kobe extension ‘100 percent’ right move, ‘worth every penny’

Though the days of Kobe Bryant winning awards are likely in the past for good, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says paying the oft-injured, aging star like he is the game's best player is 'worth every penny.'

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When the Lakers signed Kobe Bryant to his two-year, $48.5 million extension in November 2013, he hadn’t played in seven months due to a torn Achilles. Only weeks after signing the extension, Bryant returned to the court — for all of six games before going down for the season with a broken knee.

This season, the first of the two-year deal, Bryant made it through 35 games, but not without prolonged bouts with fatigue and soreness, taking several games off to rest before suffering yet another season-ending injury, this time to his shoulder, earlier this month. He is expected to need nine months of recovery and is hopeful he will be ready for the start of next season, when he is 37 years old.

So . . . 41 games over the last two seasons, another still to go, at more than $24 million a pop . . . all while the proud franchise continues to circle the drain, hoping to hit it big in the draft lottery and for one big-name free agent to agree to play with Bryant for what is believed to be one last season.

That contract’s gotta be among the biggest regrets of GM Mitch Kupchak’s career, right?

Right?

When asked Thursday whether giving Bryant the extension the right thing to do, Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times:

"100 percent. We have no regrets at all . . . Because he’s worth every penny of it."

The answer sounds a little fishy, at best. And it sounds like Kupchak knows it, because he followed that up with this very political-sounding clarification:

FALLEN IDOLS

"To me, a big part of Kobe’s contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the offseason," Kupchak said.

The Lakers entered the day stuck in a nine-game losing streak, though they did beat the Bulls at Staples Center to end the day. Even with the win, however, Los Angeles is still only 13-34, the second-worst record in the Western Conference and fourth-worst league-wide. The Lakers are due to send their first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns as part of the ill-fated Steve Nash trade. But that pick is top-five protected, so if the lottery balls fall the right way, the Lakers will have a high pick to help take some pressure off Kobe’s shoulders . . . and knees . . . and heel — and add to the sales pitch to potential free agents.

"A top-five pick is always a good thing," Kupchak said, adding that the Lakers aren’t tanking. "Our coaches and players have been instructed to win games. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don’t have to ‘instruct’ the players to win games and try to win games. I don’t have to instruct Byron [Scott] to. That’s why they’re here."