Now that the 2013-14 NBA season is complete, we can begin navigating through conflicting reports and discerning which rumors and sources to believe when it comes to the draft (June 26) and free agency (July 1). Amid talks of a fantasy-land scenario where soon-to-be free agent Carmelo Anthony would join the Miami HEAT’s current core group, with each taking a significantly discounted rate, the Los Angeles Lakers have once again found themselves within the rumor mill.
To be clear, it’s possible that Anthony would want to join forces with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – a group that has literally owned the Eastern Conference since coming together four years ago. That said, as is the case with all things related to the Lakers these days – a team with as many questions as we’ve seen in some years – we feel it is worthy to explore the possibility of Anthony becoming the next cornerstone piece in a land that Kobe Bryant has dominated for the better part of two decades.
While it was reported the front office wouldn’t pursue Anthony just last month, another story recently surfaced claiming the coaching search could have been delayed due to the fact that Lakers brass is still currently eyeing Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
So, why the conflicting reports? Although the team tends to play things as safely and guarded as possible when disseminating information and are not generally in the business of accidentally leaking plans or options, it isn’t beyond them to turn a blind eye to certain tidbits being shared specifically to determine just how much of a mutual interest there may be. Especially when you consider the fact that while several teams have been rumored to have interest in those two names (among others), franchises may not technically contact or negotiate with players until free agency officially kicks off as of 12:01 a.m. on July 1. Call it a silent “arms race,” if you will, as multiple teams are looking to make significant improvements in order to maintain their current winning ways (e.g., Miami or even Chicago) or serve as the start of a new foundation, as would clearly be the case in Los Angeles.
Given the amount the team already has guaranteed (about $32 million) to just three players (Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre), it would seem more likely that one of the two players could be the more realistic target. Regardless of your personal feelings and beliefs about James, the fact is he remains the center of the basketball universe for the foreseeable future. There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t move heaven and earth to create space for him if possible, but next Monday’s deadline for players with an early-termination clause in their contracts could really alter the power structure of the league.
Once James and Co. determine their future, attention should immediately shift to other big names like Anthony, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving (who could be available via trade if he declines an extension from the Cleveland Cavaliers). Coming off one of the better individual seasons as a member of the Knicks (27.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 APG), Anthony heads into year 12 with the bitter disappointment of missing the postseason for the first time in his career. With the Knicks lacking a pick in the upcoming draft, immediate financial spending power or much roster flexibility beyond finding a suitor for Tyson Chandler’s contract, Anthony could very well have determined he simply can no longer be a solo act as the “savior” for New York.
Why would he want to jump from one bad situation on one coast to that of another, you may ask? Surely, it would have to be for far more than a relationship with Bryant. Friendship is great, but can be explored and developed in the offseason and away from the court. If the Lakers were to truly pursue Anthony, it would likely take more than simply reminding him of his affinity toward the time spent playing alongside Bryant as an Olympian during the previous two (2008 and 2012) Team USA campaigns.
An Anthony-Bryant pairing alongside whichever presumably talented player(s) they acquire in the draft would seem to be appealing to all parties, but other potential options such as the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets could seemingly create a more immediate path toward success. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next few weeks throughout the league, and how the Lakers intend to go about reshaping the roster given the circumstances and competition for a limited amount of available ‘star’ players.
Make no mistake, while members of this front office may generally hold their cards close to the vest and preach “patience” publicly, those familiar with how they operate behind the scenes would assure you they’re undoubtedly exploring any and all available options, and perhaps contemplating a few that are not technically available as of yet. As an organization that has made acquiring the biggest names and brightest stars a thing of commonplace throughout its rich history, this has actually become an expectation for the Lakers.
Even though swingmen like Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson and Trevor Ariza could be more realistic, attainable free agent options, teams cannot be faulted for doing their due diligence when it comes to the potential availability of James and Anthony. No matter how much of a long-shot it may appear to be, we can expect the Lakers to be in the mix throughout the summer. You don’t reach the heights they’ve achieved as an organization and enjoy all of the success they’ve experienced without taking an occasional risk, moving a proverbial “mountain” or two and engineering opportunities to turn things around quicker than some may have anticipated.
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