As tricky as it was for the Los Angeles Lakers to clear up all the cap space that they have for this summer, now the even bigger trick becomes convincing a top-tier free agent to come in and take that money.
L.A. can’t promise much basketball-wise at the moment. They are the only team in the league without a coach, for starters. They also only have six players who can be penciled into the lineup for next season. Two of them, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, are 19-year veterans coming off of injuries. Two of them, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall, are fringe rotation players. And two of them, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, are rookies.
At the present time, it would appear that the Lakers need Carmelo Anthony far more than Anthony needs the Lakers.
Why would Anthony uproot himself from New York when the Knicks can offer him a five-year, $129 million extension compared to the four-year, $96 million max that the Lakers could give him? Why would Anthony leave town before he even gives Phil Jackson a real chance to implement his culture and allows Derek Fisher a shot at transferring his leadership skills as a five-time champion point guard into becoming a coach on the sidelines?
Well, the Lakers’ pitch would sound something like this: come to L.A. and be next in line to be the star of the league’s foremost glamour franchise. Things might look bleak right now, Melo, but not only do we have the ability to sign you (and your buddy LeBron James too, if The King is interested) right now, but we also have the flexibility moving forward to make a run at some of the premier guys around the league who will become free agents in the coming years.
Only that message won’t just be delivered by general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, it will be Bryant doing the convincing as well.
And that dynamic is what could prove to be the Lakers’ trump card. Bryant and Anthony have a genuine friendship stemming from their time with USA basketball. If Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley had the most star-powered friendship on the Dream Team, Bryant and Anthony filled that role on the Redeem Team when they experienced basketball nirvana together twice, taking home the gold in both Beijing and London.
Come help me get ring No. 6 and I’ll help you get ring No. 1, Bryant will say. Let’s pick our coach together, he’ll add. Heck, if you come, Pau Gasol will probably sign back on too, he’ll mention.
Bryant and Anthony got the best out of each other on those Olympic runs and could have a chance to replicate that chemistry in the NBA at a murky point in each of their careers. Bryant is coming off two major injuries. Anthony is coming off missing the playoffs for the first time in his 11 seasons in the league.
They can try to conquer together if Anthony just says yes.
Anthony already owns an offseason home in L.A., so he’s quite familiar with the territory. And in a city that produces Hollywood stars and starlets, there is no bigger show in town than when the Lakers are rolling. Bryant wants to share that spotlight. And he wants to leave the franchise in the hands of someone he deems worthy when he does walk away, most likely in two years but perhaps in three or four if his body is feeling good and the team is looking like a contender.
Bryant and Anthony are both aware that basketball is a business, but it means something far greater for the two of them.
Let me push you to somewhere you’ve never been before, Bryant will say. I need you, he’ll add. If we come together, the rest of the pieces will fall in place, he’ll bargain.
Let’s experience basketball nirvana together again, Bryant will say.