Armed with massive cap room, the Lakers will go shopping in 2014.
The franchise would love to lure LeBron James from Miami -- but after his second straight title, and given the craftiness of Heat President Pat Riley, it may prove a futile hope.
Another high-scoring forward may be more attainable --New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
While former coach Phil Jackson may not be making decisions for the Lakers, he is engaged to the team’s part-owner and executive Jeanie Buss. Jackson may have given a glimpse into their thinking at a recent event at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
“For [the Lakers] to be able to move and to adjust to the process that goes on in the NBA, you have to have flexibility. The [way] the league is structured with its new CBA and how it penalizes teams -- you can’t make moves,” Jackson said. "[With] guys like Carmelo and LeBron in a couple of years, you’ve got to be capable of making a challenge for those kinds of players.”
Anthony, the NBA’s scoring champion this season, has had some success in Denver and New York but has gotten as far as the conference finals only once in 10 seasons, with the Nuggets in 2009. He can opt out of the final year on his contract with the Knicks ($24.4 million) after this coming season.
In 2011, Kobe Bryant was asked which NBA player he would most like to team up with.
“I would actually like to play with Melo,” said Bryant, as documented by Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com in 2011. “Championships are won on the inside and I’m always thinking about winning the title. I would love to play with Melo because I would know that I have an inside presence. That’s really been the biggest strength with our Lakers team.”
Bryant has said many times that he and Anthony are good friends, stemming from their time together with Team USA.
The Lakers would be able to offer a four-year, $100.5-million contract to Anthony, starting at $23.5 million.
If Bryant was willing to take a pay cut to re-sign with the Lakers (at perhaps $13.5 million), a la Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan in recent years, the team could still have up to another $20 million in cap room to lure a third star.
Steve Nash might take up some of that space but the Lakers can look to either trade him before the summer, or use their “stretch provision” to pay his remaining $9.7 million over three seasons in $3.2-million chunks. In the latter scenario, the Lakers would still have about $17 million to spend.
The list of available players is evolving, but the Lakers could also look to make a trade using that cap space (perhaps with their 2014 draft pick as bait, although it cannot be dealt officially until after the draft).
A restricted free agent like Indiana’s Paul George would be nearly impossible to get, given that the Pacers will have the right of first refusal. The Lakers could also choose to save some cap room for 2015, when an even longer list of players could be available including LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love.
The future for the Lakers is vague but the rebuild is coming. The team hopes to get through it in short time.
The Lakers won’t have Dwight Howard under contract after he chose the Houston Rockets via free agency, but flexibility starts next summer. If Bryant is expecting another $30-million payday per season, it’s going to be almost impossible for the Lakers to reload around him.
While the idea of having a lottery pick in the stacked 2014 draft might be tempting, if Bryant can return quickly to full strength after his Achilles’ tendon repair, the Lakers will not be “tanking” to improve their draft position.
As for Anthony and his relationship with his former New York coach Mike D’Antoni, it would be a lot easier for the Lakers to get out of their coach’s contract after a second straight mediocre season.