The Los Angeles Lakers, whose plan to re-sign center Dwight Howard did not pan out this offseason, are looking at adding LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony -- among others in a star-studded 2014 free-agent class -- front-office sources have told ESPN.
Opinions are split on whether the Lakers can actually land James or Anthony, with one source calling it "realistic" and another saying it was "far-fetched at this point." Nonetheless, the Lakers have made it clear they are positioning themselves for a run at one and perhaps even two of the superstars who could become free agents in 2014 by refusing to commit to any contract past this upcoming season, multiple sources have said.
Dwyane Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh also have early-termination options on the five-year deals they signed in the summer of 2010. Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Andrew Bogut and Dirk Nowitzki will be unrestricted free agents next summer.
James, of course, is the biggest prize. But unlike in 2009, when James' free-agency options the following summer were on his mind, sources have told ESPN that James isn't even considering his 2014 decision yet.
"It's all wishful thinking at this point," a league source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN. "Teams are doing more wishing than LeBron is wanting right now.
"It's not about where LeBron wants to go [to win]. He already has two rings. If LeBron moved to Reno, teams would come to him."
Anthony's plans also remain unclear for next summer, but one source close to the situation told ESPN that it would "make sense" for him to exercise the early-termination option on his contract after next season to become a free agent and secure either a four- or five-year extension.
Basking in the glow of a second title, James recently completed a Nike camp in Las Vegas and has a promotional tour planned to the Philippines and China. Then he will turn his focus to his wedding, which is planned for September in San Diego.
James likely will not seriously look at his choices until the end of next season. At that time, he is expected to use the same guiding principles as he did back in 2010: the talent on the prospective rosters and the chances they can lead to multiple chances at championships. Three years ago, teams chasing James like the New York Knicks and the then-New Jersey Nets were pitching the idea of pairing him with a second star.
The Heat ultimately won James' services largely because they were the only team able to put him next to two stars in Wade and Bosh. James likely would be looking for a similar set of circumstances, which is why he's currently happy in Miami.
That makes it a challenge to handicap the Lakers' chances because their roster after this season is mostly a blank slate at this point. There's nothing to sell to James yet. Not even Kobe Bryant, who is in the final year of his contract, is guaranteed to be in the fold.
Bryant told ESPN last week that he wants to play at least two or three more seasons, but since there have not yet been any extension talks with the Lakers as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon, it's pointless to talk about what he'd be willing to play for.
Bryant will be the highest-paid player in the league next season with a $30.5 million salary. For the Lakers to maintain enough room to pursue two max-level free agents, he'd need to play for quite a bit less.
"As a businessman the goal is always to not take a pay cut," Bryant said. "But ..."
Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin last week that he intends to be involved in the Lakers' recruiting efforts for 2014 and is looped into the team's decision-making.
"It's an open conversation, via text and also meeting in person and just picking up the phone and calling," Bryant said of his involvement. "They've kept me in the loop pretty well."
If Howard had re-signed with the Lakers, the team would have had room to make a run at only one player next summer and sign him to a maximum-level contract. Now that he's gone, the Lakers have only Steve Nash ($9.7 million) and Robert Sacre ($915,243) on the books for 2014-15, leaving them with enough space to make a run at two max-level players.
The new collective bargaining agreement would allow the Lakers to waive Nash in the final year of his contract and "stretch" that $9.7 million out over three years, meaning only $3.2 million would count against their 2014-15 salary cap. So even if Bryant extends his contract for another couple of seasons, at between $10-15 million per season, the Lakers still theoretically would have enough room to pursue two max-level players.