Lakers keep playing the free-agent market with a sense of urgency

Lakers keep playing the free-agent market with a sense of urgency
Many people believe LeBron James will remain with the Miami Heat even though he opted out of the final two years of his contract. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Patience doesn't come easy for the Lakers.

First-round playoff knockouts lead to Kobe Bryant trade-me rants. Horribly one-sided NBA Finals losses segue into the dispersal of Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson, two of the best ever in their craft.

Fifty-five loss seasons lead to what, exactly?

The Lakers are gamely diving into the free-agent market as if the future of their franchise depends on it, which it might.


After pitching to Carmelo Anthony on Thursday in Los Angeles, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak stealthily jumped on a private jet and flew to Cleveland to meet with LeBron James' agent on Friday.


Kupchak took with him an increasingly important person in the organization, business and marketing executive Tim Harris. He was the quarterback for the business pitch to Anthony, which included a four-minute "trailer" of Anthony's life created by movie producer Joel Silver. Harris was also in charge of presenting the branding possibilities of the Lakers and the city of Los Angeles to James' agent.

It's hard to decipher James' mind-set. Reports conflict almost daily — he might want to return to the Miami Heat, he might not want to return, he'll return if the roster gets an upgrade after a humiliating five-game loss to San Antonio in the NBA Finals.

James and Kevin Durant are the NBA's most dynamic players, and the Lakers have Durant firmly in their recruiting plans two years from now.

It'll be hard to get James, who hasn't even agreed to a meeting with them yet. Right now teams can only pitch his agent, Rich Paul.

The Heat can offer James five years and $115.1 million. The Lakers can offer four years and $85.5 million.

The Heat could also offer some kinder geography — the Eastern Conference, where James wouldn't have to fight through Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Houston, Portland, Golden State and, of course, the Spurs to get to the Finals every year.

Anthony would appear to be an easier target. The Knicks somehow didn't even make the playoffs in the East and their roster is hamstrung at least one more year by the bloated contracts of Amare Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.

But, like Miami with James, New York can offer Anthony a lot more than the Lakers — $129.1 million over five years compared to $95.9 million over four years.

If the Lakers strike out on James and Anthony, they're not expected to pursue Pau Gasol as hard as they are now. Next season could look a lot like this past season. Just don't tell Bryant.

Who's the boss?

As the Lakers pursue James and Anthony, one other question lingers.

Where is their coach?

More than two months have passed since Mike D'Antoni resigned April 30, and the Lakers still don't have someone to guide their team.

Of course they still don't really have a team, seeing how only four players are guaranteed contracts next season, six if you include non-guaranteed point guards Kendall Marshall and second-round draft pick Jordan Clarkson.

When the Lakers met with Anthony on Thursday, they did not promise he could have a say in which coach they hired. It's a slippery slope if you give a player too much power, the Lakers maintain.

They like Byron Scott but want to make sure they compile a roster that fits his high screen-and-roll style.

They have interviewed five candidates but only two are still without a job — Scott and former Lakers Coach Mike Dunleavy.

Lionel Hollins just became head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Kurt Rambis will be an assistant coach with New York and Alvin Gentry will be an assistant with Golden State.

It doesn't hurt that the Lakers also save a little money by waiting until this month to hire a coach, perhaps the product of having to pay their last two coaches, D'Antoni and Mike Brown, before their contracts were officially done.