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NBA AM: Are The Lakers Still A Desired Destination?

Are the LA Lakers still a desirable free agent destination? Kobe Bryant thinks so, but will free agents?… Is Rajon Rondo ready to lead the Celtics?

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The Harsh Truth Of The Middle:  There is little doubt that where a player plays matters. As much as teams try and make it a money discussion there does come a time when money is not the only motivator, especially in free agency.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant did his part yesterday to keep the pot stirring with regards to New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, suggesting that everyone wants to play in LA.

“Everybody wants to play in Los Angeles,” Bryant said with a chuckle. “I mean, New York’s a beautiful place, but don’t get me wrong, it’s colder than sh*t out here. Palm trees and beaches, obviously, are a little more appealing. But all jokes aside, I think that players, when that time comes, will have to make the best decision for them and their families. If he wants to call me for advice, later, as a friend, I’ll be more than happy to give it to him.”

If the last two offseasons have taught us anything, it’s that players often think about themselves during free agency and that leaving what appears to be an ideal situation for something else is the new normal in the NBA.

Proponents of big markets tend to over-look that while in Orlando Dwight Howard became a household name, garnered all of the major gems of the endorsement world and logged the most All-Star votes by a single player. Thunder forward Kevin Durant leads all NBA players including LeBron James in the number of commercial endorsements and more importantly television commercials featuring his likeness. He plays in one of the smaller NBA markets in the league.

»In Related: The 2014-2015 NBA Free Agent Class.

Who you are matters a lot more than where you are.

Market appeal is a factor, but it’s not nearly the factor that it was even 10 years ago because of the digitalization of sports media and the global appeal the NBA has.

Fans no longer consume NBA products based on what’s shown each week on national television. For years, that was the primary outlet for NBA stars, so being on one of the teams on national television mattered, it mattered a lot.

But with more emphasis on League Pass, prime time availability of non-local games and the ever increasing game night presence of outlets like NBA TV and the internet, the national game isn’t what it used to be.

Large market teams have deeper pockets, that’s for sure, but with a new economic system in the NBA leveling the playing field, major market teams don’t have the ability to outspend their lesser populated counter-parts. In fact those lesser teams have learned they have to overspend a little to get players and we have seen over the last few years teams outside the top ten in terms of media markets, spending more or giving bigger contracts than other teams, simply to get or retain talent.

We have also seen major market teams opt not to sign players for monetary reasons, something that was unheard of even five years ago.

It is naïve to believe money does not play a factor in where a player chooses to sign, but once the money becomes equal – or close to equal – that’s where lifestyle and the chance to really win factor in. Players, especially ones coming to a team as a free agent, talk about a franchise’s history or legacy, but almost none of them weigh that part of the equation when picking their next team. Where a team is going and what role they will play tends to trump everything.

It’s nice to talk about Anthony heading to the Lakers as a free agent, and he very well might. But the truth of the matter is he won’t be picking his next team because of palm trees and warm weather, he’ll be picking his next team because they can pay him a top tier rate and most importantly they can give him a real chance to win a championship.

»In Related: The Modern History of Trades In The NBA.

When it’s time to sit down and talk about where Anthony plays next, there will more than just the Knicks and Lakers sitting at the table and some of those situations may have palm trees and warm weather too.

The NBA landscape has changed, and we’ve seen dozens of cases where players have left one situation for another, and we have seen major players leave major markets.

It’s fun for someone who has played his entire career in LA to say “everyone wants to play in LA”, but is that really true? That will likely depend on how quickly the Lakers can rebuild themselves into a contender.

The Lakers have historically been a contender in more years than not and that has no doubt added to their appeal. But based on the construct of the roster today and the lack of youth and trade assets tomorrow, the Lakers might be less desirable than at any point in their history.

It will be interesting to see how free agents really look at the Lakers and if palm trees can really sway a major player LA’s way.

» ICYMI: Moke Hamilton caught up with Laker guard Kobe Bryant in New York this weekend. Kobe believes everyone wants to play in LA. Bill Ingram wonders is Rajon Rondo the answer to the Rockets championship puzzle? Nate Duncan and Tommy Beer go ‘Head-To-Head’ on who the third best team in the East really is. Moke Hamilton surveyed the Basketball Insiders team to find out who the 2014 All-Star Reserves might be. You can always find what you missed from our team here: https://www.basketballinsiders.com/category/nba-news/

Is Rondo Ready To Lead?:  It’s been an interesting week on the Rajon Rondo front for Boston. First Celtics president Danny Ainge revealed his team unsuccessfully tried to get Rondo to agree to a contract extension. Then Rondo countered saying he hoped to end his career in Boston.

As former Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett made their return to Boston, now as members of the Brooklyn Nets, both gushed over their former guard and his new role as leader of the Celtics locker room.

“When we were here, I think he took notes,” Garnett said to Ben Watanabe of New England Sports Network. “[Saturday] night, when we were talking to him, we stressed setting the tone, being the example, even when he doesn’t want to. I always talk to him about being a professional, and as a professional you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to do that.”

The former teammate spent some time together on Saturday night, including a dinner, in which all three shared memories and experiences.

»In Related: The Boston Celtics Team Salary Page.

“I think he’s ready now,” Pierce said. “Rondo is mature. He understood what was coming and I think he’s ready. Before, he had me and Kevin to lean on. Now, he’s the guy. He’s the captain. He’s who everybody looks to for leadership. He’s grown. He’s matured. He’s seen the bottom, he’s seen the top and he’s got to understand this is his team to lead, through good and through bad. I think he understands that and he’s ready for that role. He’s ready to deal with it.”

The Celtics are clearly in rebuild mode, but for Garnett he thinks that Rondo can be part of getting the Celtics back to the playoffs and into contender status.

“It’s the pedigree of a champion,” Garnett said. “You don’t let losing become something usual. You keep the mentality up. Some are not going to follow, but most will. And Rondo’s ready. He’s very comfortable in his role here. I think he understood the transition once it was happening and he’s the type of person that has the type of mentality, with the personality, to do just that. He’ll be all right.”

Rondo logged a season high 30 minutes against the Nets last night, something head coach Brad Stevens said was part of the plan as he works his way back from an ACL tear last year.

The Celtics are currently 15-31 and have lost eight of their last ten games. If the season ended today, the Celtics would be in a three-way tie with Sacramento and Utah for the fourth worst record in the NBA.

»In Related: The Current NBA Standings.

» Get a head start on your chatting: My weekly chat is at 10:30 am EST today. Yannis Koutroupis will chat at 3:00pm EST today. Nate Duncan will chat on Tuesday at 11:00am EST. Bill Ingram will chat at 8:00pm EST. To find all of the upcoming chat go here: https://www.basketballinsiders.com/upcoming-chats/

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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