Although there may be some people who still would be in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers pursuing free agent Carmelo Anthony once the July signing frenzy commences, that number appears to have dwindled significantly since the end of the regular season. Perhaps it is a matter of ‘cooler heads’ prevailing once removed from the immediate emotional reaction to the worst season in franchise history, or maybe the reality of the circumstances set in. With Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the books for just over $33.2 million next season, signing Anthony to what would likely have to be a max contract would realistically remove them from any discussion regarding Kevin Love, even if he were to become available via trade between now and the 2014-15 trade deadline or free agency next summer.
At 30 years old this Thursday, Anthony is heading into what is conceivably the final stretch of his peak form and doesn’t have time to wait for the rebuilding process of any organization. Even though the thought of coming together with a friend and former Team USA teammate in Bryant or leading his New York Knicks back to glory must each have a certain amount of appeal to Anthony, his best fit may ultimately be found in Chicago if the Bulls are able to clear the necessary cap space (with moves such as trading/amnestying Carlos Boozer and moving Mike Dunleavy’s contract) this summer.
There’s still the matter of how the Bulls settle the issue of Nikola Mirotic’s contract and whether they decide to bring him over this summer, but the NBA’s projected salary cap increase (7.7 percent or approximately $5 million) does make things a bit easier for Chicago. Anthony’s decision could ultimately come down to taking a slight pay cut at the start of a deal with the Bulls over a full extension ($120 million) from the rebuilding Knicks, or even the max four-year deal (about $96 million) from a team like the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets (if they can clear the necessary cap room).
The latest reports from the New York Post’s Marc Berman may ease the minds of Lakers fans concerned with any potential ‘tug-of-war’ for available assets and resources, as Berman’s source tells the Post that while the Lakers have the available space, they aren’t “too interested with Anthony as a fit with Bryant.” There was no follow-up regarding whether that sentiment is financially-based or if they simply don’t see an Anthony/Bryant duo being successful, but one thing that should at least be on the Lakers’ radar is the fact that Berman’s source seemed to insinuate that Lakers president Jeanie Buss would be against the idea specifically because it would involve “stealing” Anthony from her fiancé Phil Jackson, who was recently named the president of the Knicks.
Quite frankly, their connection (regardless of whether you are in favor of Anthony) absolutely should not interfere with the decision-making process when determining what to do on the basketball operations side of things. To her credit, Buss is highly respected and has always been able to place an appropriate amount of distance between her personal relationship with Jackson and the business of governing the Lakers. But the front office should pay particular attention to reports of this nature, as rumors of “conflicts of interest” are simply not what either organization needs to be dealing with at this time, especially when you consider that beyond Anthony, the two teams are likely to square off in additional negotiations for the same free agents in the future (Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, etc.).
The league already addressed the issue back in March, when they put “certain parameters” in place to avoid such issues. It should be noted that the Lakers can’t comment on another team’s free agent, but the team did release a statement reiterating that Buss and Jackson signed an agreement when Jackson became the president of the Knicks that blocked this exact concept.
“As expressed earlier when discussing the confidentiality agreement they signed when Phil was hired by the Knicks, Jeanie and Phil will not be competing against each other, nor will they be conspiring to help one another,” Lakers’ VP of Public Relations John Black told Basketball Insiders. “Furthermore, Jeanie’s #1 priority, of which no one should have any doubt, is the Los Angeles Lakers and in doing whatever she can to improve the team and to help the franchise.”
The truth of the matter is, while Anthony is a phenomenal talent and will almost undoubtedly return in the best condition of his career as he heads into what can be expected to be his last max contract opportunity, if the Lakers felt as though signing him would place them back into the title conversation they wouldn’t hesitate to pursue him regardless of any alliances.
This is not a team that is one contract away from contention, so you wouldn’t want to mortgage so much of your cap flexibility on a player in the second half of his career. All bets would be off if Anthony were willing to take a significant pay cut to come to L.A., but we don’t anticipate the Lakers holding their collective breath for that to take place given the alternative options that are available.
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