His fifth championship ring pushed him ahead of former nemesis Shaquille O'Neal, but he still needs another piece in his jewelry collection to catch Michael Jordan. Even in the midst of the Dwight Howard debacle and Bryant's grueling rehab from a torn Achilles, the Mamba has championship thoughts racing through his mind.
It starts with Bryant making the ultimate financial sacrifice for the Los Angeles Lakers. After collecting the $30.4 million owed to him for next season, Pincus theorizes that Bryant could return to L.A. for a veteran's minimum deal for the 2014-15 season.
With nothing more than Steve Nash's contract ($9,701,000) and Bryant's relatively meager wages on the books, the Lakers could have more than $46 million to attack the loaded 2014 free-agent crop. L.A.'s two biggest targets for its newfound financial wiggle room, Pincus offers, would be reigning MVP LeBron James and reigning scoring champion Carmelo Anthony.
All would not be lost for Bryant in this fantasy scenario.
Since the Lakers would still hold his Bird rights, L.A. could pony up a $19.5 million max salary for the Mamba for the 2015-16 season. Pincus adds that the Lakers could even wait to re-up with Bryant until after securing another major haul from the 2015 free-agent group that could include players like Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.
That's a potential haul greater than any fantasy owner could ever imagine pulling in a league and even challenges the limits of possibilities in the gaming world. I could man the fifth starting spot in that lineup, and the Lakers would still dominate.
Sounds a bit crazy, right? Unfortunately for Lakers fans, Bryant agrees.
According to Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, the five-time champion says that not only is he disinterested in a pay cut, but he plans to hit the negotiating table seeking "as much as I possibly can."
From a business standpoint, there's no logical way to question Bryant's reasoning. His next-level basketball skills are a marketable commodity, and he wouldn't be expected to take anything below market value.
He'll be 35 before the 2013-14 season gets underway, so his earnings window is quickly closing. On the basketball side, though, this is something that Bryant has to consider.
This is his chance to prove that winning really is the only thing that matters to him. A Bryant insider told ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne that the Mamba wants "two more cracks at it to win seven NBA titles at least."
If Anthony and James were L.A.-bound next summer, the only question for Bryant to consider would be why he'd stop at only seven rings. Leave Mike D'Antoni on the sidelines or give the next broadcasting hopeful a crack at handling the coaching duties—there's no way that this team would fall short in its championship quest.
The problem is that it's never all about winning. There's a business side to professional sports, and a pay cut of this magnitude is something completely different from stars willingly sparing a few million dollars for the betterment of their franchise.
Bryant could change all that and drastically improve his lasting legacy in one fell swoop.
He might not want to attempt to traverse these uncharted waters, but that winning-at-all-costs mentality certainly loses a bit of its luster if he doesn't at least consider it.