Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers — basketball operations and financial management — met with free agent Carmelo Anthony at the Staples Center.
A pitch was made in order to lure the five-star small forward to the purple and gold, without the franchise’s eminent superstar present. Kobe Bryant, who’s committed half of his life to the Lakers, was on a family vacation in Europe the week before. He attempted to fly back into the states for the meeting, but his flight was pushed back. He issued his due-diligence, though, by catching up with Anthony late in the evening.
Anthony was staying in Los Angeles all night Thursday, seeing as how Phil Jackson urged for his free agent to talk with the Knicks on the same day.
Lakers General Manager, Mitch Kupchak, was ready to deliver a sound message to Anthony and his agent, with Jeanie Buss alongside. Buss, the daughter of the late Jerry Buss, runs the financial and business portion of the Lakers, and didn’t want to miss the most important meeting of the year. LeBron James is also on the market, but doesn’t want the same cataclysm he went through in 2010. Thus, he isn’t going through the public meetings with other franchises, traveling from city to city as part of the “Decision tour.” Instead, James’ agent has the leading voice this time around.
Rich Paul recently made LeBron his client, and will handle the free agency situation in a much better fashion than James’ camp did in 2010.
The idea has been: If we know we’re going to have zero chance at picking LeBron off the market, why not throw everything we have at Anthony?
Yes, Kupchak flew to Cleveland on Friday to meet with LeBron’s agency, but the general consensus around the league is that James would not want to join a team with an empty panel of players. The Lakers are rebuilding, whether Bryant wants to agree to those terms or not. He’s the only major piece under contract with the team, the others being a 40-year-old point guard (Nash), and underdeveloped center (Sacre). Kendall Marshall, a floor general that can’t create his own shot, is also with the team.
Playing with Bryant — who owns the personality of wanting to be the best player on any roster he’s apart of — isn’t that appealing to James. But even more so, if James wanted to rebuild at this point of his career, why wouldn’t he do it with Pat Riley in South Beach? Too many negatives are pointing in the Lakers’ direction, even if they have $22.5 million in cap space.
In regards to Anthony, Los Angeles took a fascinating twist in Thursday’s pitch.
They took the opportunity to throw the glamor approach to Anthony, as movie producer Joel Silver was present in the 2.5 hour talk. The idea behind it?
Silver presented Carmelo with a film trailer of Anthony’s life, and tried to influence the signing with a “stardom” theme. The fact of the matter is, there’s no better place for a spotlight than Los Angeles, and he would be given the star treatment immediately — by fans, owners, players, and … more fans.
What’s the first reason people scream back at you when you ask “Why can’t Kobe and Carmelo play together?”
“They both want the ball.”
You couldn’t be more right, as neither of them have made a successful career standing in the corner, locking down on defense, or facilitating. It’s not that they want the ball majority of the time, it’s that they need it. I’ve always found it silly when people believe two ball-dominant stars are incapable of playing together. When LeBron first arrived in Miami, Dwyane Wade was still a guy that wanted the ball on every possession, and desired that number one slot as a go-to figure. It got them to the Finals in 2011, just because the talent was so overwhelming compared to the rest of the East, including Rose’s Bulls.
With Anthony and Bryant, however, it is two superstars that love to shoot. No bullets are ever left in the chamber, or the box for that matter. But is there really a harm in that?
It’s not like Bryant has been full of failure and mishaps when he launches a ton of shots, or plays with that “I’m going to eat first” style. There are bad moments, that’s life. But, there’s been more success to outweigh those negative instances, and most of those successes have been with Bryant being in gunslinger mode.
Anthony has been directed on a different path, one that’s been easier to criticize.
Only reaching the Conference Finals once — in 2009 vs. Bryant — and never making his way to the Finals, it’s been open season for hate mail, specifically claiming “Anthony isn’t a team player,” or the famous question of “How many rings does he have?”
In reality, Anthony has played with the same mentality as Bryant since entering the league in 2003. He’s no Wade; a quicker, more of slasher than a shooter. He’s no LeBron; an unprecedented physical maniac with Magic Johnson‘s passing skills. He’s more of a Bryant; a force that loves perimeter attacking, and has a crafty post game.
The last full season Bryant and Anthony played — during the 2012-13 campaign — they finished first and second in field goals attempted per game. Anthony, who captured his first scoring title, attempted 22.2 field goals per night, including 6.2 from the outside. In the same season, Bryant averaged 20.4 shots per game, with 5.2 coming from 3-point land. The two love to score, and they were built to do so.
Yes, that’s a ton of shots. No, there aren’t enough basketballs to go around. Sacrifices would have to be made, but that’s (hopefully) what you have point guard Steve Nash for. Nash played in just 15 games last season due to the nerve root irritation (I’m still not sure how that works, it must be like arthritis … the man is nearly half a century old!) But seriously, the nerve root irritation is something that may be incurable, and nobody saw it coming in Nash’s second game wearing a Lakers jersey.
Nash, if he took the whole summer to get healthy and train his tail off, can make sure that Grantland special on him doesn’t end up being the truth. While the perfect solution for two guys that could clash with shooting opportunities would be Boston’s Rajon Rondo, the Lakers don’t have any assets to obtain a player in Rondo’s stratosphere. If Anthony decides to play in the City of Angeles, Nash will have to do. I wonder if he’ll make Nash go through a private workout to prove he’s actually functional and able to get around without a wheelchair?
Anthony hasn’t had a lot to be proud of playing with another guy willing to take a lot of looks. Allen Iverson had a stint with the Denver Nuggets, playing with Anthony during his younger days. It didn’t pan out well, even with the amazing tactics from coach George Karl. In New York, J.R. Smith‘s scrapbook of ups and downs cost Anthony a chance to play for the East title in 2013, and the two have been trigger happy from 3-point range since playing together.
You almost get the feel that Anthony needs to be in a selfless system. There’s one in the Windy City, ran by Tom Thibodeau. They are welcoming Anthony with open arms, and if they were allowed to pre-sell No. 7 jerseys with his name on the back, they would. It’s just the best overall basketball fit, and he’d be an utter fool not to realize it.
He’d also be a fool, on the financial front, to leave nearly $50 million up in the air.
That’s how much he’d have to risk by joining the Bulls instead of the Knicks. Phil Jackson offered Anthony a max contract worth five years, $129 million on Thursday night. New York is the only team that can offer him the fifth year under contract, since he was their free agent this summer. That’s where the “leaving money on the table” talk originates. It’s not necessarily “losing” the money, but it just wouldn’t be guaranteed Anthony would earn that in his future.
For instance, if Anthony suffered a major injury towards the end of a four-year deal with the Lakers, the market would value him at very little cash, seeing as how he would be 34 years old and hurt. Or, say his production just unexpectedly falls off, and he’s not worth superstar money anymore. At the end of a four-year deal, he wouldn’t be able to sign another contract that summer that would pay him over $20 million in average annual salary.
In New York, that fifth year would have Anthony locked up, regardless if he was hurt or unable to play at top-notch level. Talk to Amare’ Stoudemire about this issue … or James Dolan.
It’s been reported that Anthony is leaning towards taking the most money, and the Lakers can only offer him four years, $97 million. New York has the advantage we knew they would all along, but they likely have the second-worst roster on paper for Anthony to decide between. The Lakers, empty plan and all, have the least appealing outlook in terms of “winning now.” Oh, and the Western Conference is ran by the devil.
Moving on from Carmelo when he decides to go elsewhere, Kupchak and the Lakers will have to narrow their eyes on role players to fit around Bryant. The list includes their own free agent, Pau Gasol, who is torn between wanting to win, and wanting to remain loyal to the franchise that needed him in 2008. Gasol became a Laker six and half years ago, and he’d be willing to re-join the team considering Los Angeles is the king city of overpaying. You don’t think they’d give Gasol more cash than the teams in the running for the Spaniard? Trust me, we’ve all seen it.
Around Gasol and Bryant could fit Luol Deng, who doesn’t want to take a huge pay cut to join Miami’s Big Three. Deng, without a title, should probably start looking for the best places to win, and leave money as the second variable for making the decision.
Pacers’ free agent, Lance Stephenson, has no idea what he’s doing in his first real decision as a professional, and that could be a good thing for Los Angeles. Pairing Kobe and Bad Lance would be a nightmare, and Stephenson would likely have a swollen eye and jaw by mid-November. However, if Good Lance is ready to learn and play with Kobe, there’s a great deal of talent defenses would have to account for.
For smaller point guards, Isaiah Thomas is also on the market.
The Sacramento Kings recently chased after former Clippers’ guard, Darren Collison, and reached an agreement. It could very well point to Thomas heading elsewhere, as the Kings were determined — for some reason — to go away from a guy that averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game last season. Only three other point guards passed the plateau of 20 points & six assists per game: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Only one of those (Curry) shot better from the field than Thomas, who finished the season at 45.3 percent.
Thomas is undervalued, and the Lakers would be insane to pass on making him an offer. He’s a restricted free agent, but Sacramento would have to think long and hard about matching any sheet, since it would be hard to knock Thomas off his starting gig.
While grabbing Carmelo in a free agency class that was more powerful than expected would be fantastic, the Lakers can’t put all their cards on that table. Before long, it will be time to look in other directions. There’s still underrated pieces in the market, and Kupchak can’t be blind to them.
Missing out on Anthony could still leave the franchise with a bright light of hope.
**All statistical support credited to NBA.com**
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com. For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.