It was reported back in October that the Lakers have planned all along to target LeBron in free agency next summer, lining up all of their current contracts to expire after next season. This week, reports surfaced from the Los Angeles Times that Carmelo is going to be a Lakers target in free agency as well. Lastly, when asked in an interview on Wednesday with Serena Winters of Lakersnation.com if he was willing to take a pay cut, Kobe said,“I’m not taking any at all–that’s the negotiation you have to have.” It is a quote that the media has widely sensationalized and misconstrued, as Kobe also said he fully intends to retire a Laker and sees no issue in regards to signing an extension with the franchise.
This goes without saying: There are a million scenarios that have to play out in order for the three players to join forces. It starts, though, with the Lakers’ ability to sign all three as free agents next summer, should LeBron and Carmelo opt out of their contracts as expected. Another reason is that Phil Jackson already has a minor unofficial consultant role with the franchise and it isn’t out of the question to believe that if asked by owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak to coach the team, he would accept. There aren’t too many players in the league who would turn down the opportunity to play for a coach with 11 rings and one who has coached the greatest player of all time.
If there’s one franchise that could pull off such a move, it would be the Lakers. They remain one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, more than just a team but a brand also, among the likes of the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and the Boston Celtics. Not only that, LeBron, Kobe and Carmelo were teammates on both of Team USA’s gold medal squads in 2008 and 2012, where each learned a part of each other’s game.
Why would the three want to play in Los Angeles together? Let’s look at it from the perspective of each player.
As much as Kobe hates to face the truth, LeBron is the best player to play since Michael Jordan. In one sense, Kobe and LeBron could use each other to add to their ring count. This time next year, LeBron will be just 29, the same age Jordan won his second championship. Let’s get this out of the way first though: If LeBron wins the championship next year to complete a three-peat, he isn’t leaving Miami. Only way he figures to leave South Beach is if the Heat for some reason do not reach the Finals or if he realizes that going forward, he will not remain in contention for titles with a declining Dwyane Wade as his sidekick–never mind Chris Bosh, who has never been the Chris Bosh we saw in Toronto since signing with Miami.
LeBron has already proven to be strictly a businessman, refusing to let his legacy be defined by loyalty. When he signed with the Heat in July 2010, he was increasing his chances to chase titles (not five, not six, not seven) and it has proved to be a very smart business decision. Jordan changed the game and LeBron changed the business.
With that in mind, it is in the realm of possibility that LeBron could decide to opt out and join the other top two free agents on another team. He’s done it before, so why would he not do it again if it gives him the best chance to win titles? He has to realize that he will be hitting his prime and that the league is full of young superstars who are coming for his throne, like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Dwight Howard. Kobe has arguably two good years left, but LeBron could pair with Carmelo, undeniably one of the top offensive talents in this league, to finish his career.
The bottom line is that LeBron knows he’s already one of the all-time greats, but if he can tie or pass Jordan with six championships, he would legitimately be considered the greatest of all-time. Should LeBron decide to opt out next season and sign with the Lakers, it is going to be LeBron’s team, he’d probably win the regular season MVP and the Finals MVP, and the throne would remain his in one of the top two markets in the country. He cannot ignore that.
The notion that Kobe would refuse to take a pay cut is misunderstood. In any business negotiation, a cardinal rule is that you ask for the money. You don’t go into a negotiation thinking to take less and Kobe is not in the wrong for saying what he said. Now if the situation presented itself where the Lakers were ready to sign both LeBron and Carmelo and Kobe knew that, of course he would take a pay cut, but he’s not going to just tell the Lakers to give him the veteran minimum.
Jordan said it best, when he highlighted that Kobe’s just as cursed as he was. Kobe’s prowess to win by any means necessary, whether it be by alienating teammates or forcing them out of town (Shaquille O’Neal), is something we have not witnessed since Jordan himself. In other words, winning five championships is not for everybody. Not everybody knows the sacrifices necessary to achieve such an accomplishment.
His whole career, Kobe has been chasing Jordan’s six titles. He knows Jordan is the measuring stick. In his mind, he’s playing against the basketball ghost of Jordan and nobody else, not against his contemporaries in the league today. That is the will that has made him so great.
He could realistically play two more seasons at an elite level, depending on his play coming back from the Achilles injury next year. Playing two more years could also enable Kobe to potentially break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s scoring record. The hardest thing he would have to do though is swallow his pride and allow LeBron and Carmelo to take over the team. The Lakers would not be his team with those two on it and he would have to pass the torch, something at this current stage in his career he was unwilling to do with Dwight Howard.
If Kobe did pass Jordan though in terms of rings, it would be because he was riding the coattails of LeBron and Carmelo. He wouldn’t be the man on this potential championship team, grabbing a few more rings before retiring as a third option.
Carmelo has always been one of the league’s top all around scorers. His game is also a much better fit to play with LeBron than Dwyane Wade is. He’s a much better shooter than Wade and can score from anywhere on the court. His game thrived when playing with LeBron in both of the past two Olympics.
At this point in his career, Carmelo has only been out of the first round twice. He’s been labeled an offensive juggernaut who will never contend for a title because of his selfish play. If he was able to win championships with the Lakers, he would be seen as more than that and that label would be dropped. Playing with the best all-around player in the game in LeBron and one of the game’s strongest personalities in Kobe would serve him well.
Carmelo would get the chance to play on the big stage in Los Angeles, a move that his wife, La La Vazquez, would welcome as well. It is well documented that he always wanted the big market to play in going back to his days in Denver and it doesn’t get any bigger than in Hollywood.
If the Knicks remain cap-strapped next summer, stuck with Amar’e Stoudemire’s $23 million on the books for 2014-15 and Tyson Chandler’s $14 million, Carmelo may have no choice but to opt out and team with his two Olympic teammates. It would be the best decision for his career.