Lakers shoot for stars in free agency, hit nothing

Lakers shoot for stars in free agency, hit nothing
Kobe Bryant speaks during a news conference at the Kobe Basketball Academy for boys and girls on Wednesday in Santa Barbara. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The free-agent winds are again blowing away from the Lakers, another dry summer apparently on the way.

Carmelo Anthony will return to the New York Knicks, giving a polite "no thanks" to the Lakers' attempt to court him, according to the New York Daily News.


And their infinitely more slender shot at landing LeBron James is probably evaporating as well, the King himself sitting down Wednesday with Miami President Pat Riley and either heading back to the Heat or maybe even rejoining Cleveland.

The Cavaliers made a strong push this month to bring James back after he left them for Miami in 2010, ultimately playing in four NBA Finals, winning two of them.

On Wednesday, they agreed to trade versatile guard Jarrett Jack, young center Tyler Zeller and a future first-round pick to free up cap space in a three-team trade.

It could be all for naught if the Cavaliers struck out again.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are facing another off-season of strikeouts, as they did a year ago when Dwight Howard spurned them to take less money in Houston.

Surprisingly, the Lakers' apparently empty effort this month left Kobe Bryant with praise for the only pro team he has ever known.

"Look, they're going for it," he said Wednesday in Santa Barbara at a basketball camp he hosts each summer. "I mean, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it, man. They're being extremely aggressive and they have solid concepts and plans to be able to get it done and they're pulling out all the stops to ensure that we put a contender on the floor next year, and that's all you can ask for."

It remains to be seen if he still says that if the Lakers struggle from the start next season.

Bryant spoke of a solid Plan B, but the mid-tier free agents are thinning out quickly.

Kyle Lowry has agreed to stay with Toronto, Chandler Parsons signed a lucrative offer sheet with Dallas and Gordon Hayward signed an offer sheet with New Orleans.

Luol Deng is still out there, though he's probably asking for at least as much as he turned down last year in contract extension talks with Chicago — three years and $30 million. That would be a no-go for the Lakers, who want to sign players to one-year deals, or perhaps a two-year deal, while keeping their eye on the free-agent class of next summer (Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, maybe James again) and 2016 (Kevin Durant).

Guard Lance Stephenson is a possibility, but only if he accepts two years or less, and a reunion with Trevor Ariza is also possible, but only if he accepts the same limited parameters.

Assuming Anthony chooses the Knicks, the Lakers' chances of a reprise with Pau Gasol drop drastically.

Gasol, 34, wants to return to the place he has called home since 2008 but also wants a solid roster around him, which the Lakers currently are not able to provide with a "nucleus" of the aging Bryant and injury-prone Steve Nash.


Gasol has been courted by San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Miami and Chicago. He made $19.3 million last season but was looking at a substantial pay cut.

In a free-agent system that often incentivizes big-money players to stay with their teams, Anthony, 30, would have had to accept a four-year, $95.9-million contract with the Lakers instead of a five-year, $129.1-million deal with the Knicks.

Anthony, who was born in Brooklyn and played at Syracuse, averaged 27.4 points for the Knicks last season, along with career-highs in rebounds (8.1) and minutes (38.7).

He met with the Lakers last Thursday and was said to be "agonizing" while determining whether to return to the Knicks or join the Lakers or Bulls.

"He will have something for everybody on Thursday," said a close friend of Anthony, according to the New York Daily News. "He is really torn because this is the biggest decision of his career. But he wants to get it done in New York. He told me he believes in Phil."

That would be former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who became the Knicks' president this year and reportedly formed a close connection with Anthony.

Bryant seemed to suggest he would be OK if the Lakers struck out in their attempts to land a high-end free agent because they had set out to reestablish a championship core.

"The organization, if God forbid we end up with absolutely nothing, it's not for a lack of effort," Bryant said. "That's something that I would be extremely proud of. You put forth the effort, you gave it your best shot … what can you do, right? So you just go from there and then it's on me to go out there and do my best and try to help us win."

What about sitting through another rebuilding year? The Lakers were 27-55 last season, 14th in the Western Conference, as Bryant played only six games and Nash only 15.

"I've never had patience, so why would I start now?" Bryant said. "But you do what you have to do."

Bryant lauded the efforts of team executives Jim and Jeanie Buss, saying they were "on the same page. They're ready to go. They both understand what they need to do individually and how that works together as a unit in turning this organization around. I think you'll see some changes that really fall in line with the history and the culture of the organization."

The Lakers are still without a coach, but Bryant gave Byron Scott a thumbs-up for the job, calling his former teammate his "rookie mentor" who made Bryant fetch doughnuts and run other errands as a young player.

"We've had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years," Bryant said. "I've always been a fan of his."

One issue Bryant apparently has put behind him is the injuries that have limited him to six games over the last 15 months. He said he weighed 218 pounds, which is normal for late in a season when he had leaned down.

"Physically, I feel great," Bryant said. "I mean, I don't think about the knee at all when I train. I don't think about the Achilles' at all when I train. I feel sharp, crisp. Now it's just time to add on from there."