Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant flew in late Wednesday night from a European vacation so he could play a key part in the team's pitch to free-agent forward Carmelo Anthony on Thursday, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Bryant has a long history and friendship with Anthony and has been courting him for some time, but he felt it was important to be there when the Lakers made their pitch to him at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles.
The Lakers have made Anthony and fellow superstar free agent LeBron James the main focus of their offseason, going so far as to hold off hiring a coach and signing other free agents until they could make their pitches to the two players.
While they have called Rich Paul, James' agent, and were hoping to meet with him soon, sources maintain James and Paul have yet to grant formal meetings to any teams.
Anthony is far from a consolation prize, however. Sources indicate the Lakers are enamored with his game and believe that he would complement Bryant well. The Lakers hope to pair the two wings with center Pau Gasol, with whom they met on the first day of free agency.
ESPN reported Wednesday night that the Oklahoma City Thunder duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made a strong case to Gasol, with the Thunder emerging as a surprising front-runner despite their financial limitations. The Chicago Bulls are scheduled to meet with Gasol on Thursday in Los Angeles.
However, the Lakers can pay Gasol more than any other team, and his fondness for the city and playing with Bryant should not be discounted. If the team can add to its roster with Anthony, sources said, Gasol would be far more inclined to re-sign with the Lakers.
Selling that vision to Anthony will fall to Bryant, general manager Mitch Kupchak, Lakers president Jeanie Buss, executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and several other figures the team has enlisted. Grantland's Zach Lowe reported Monday that the Lakers turned more than $100 million in profits last season -- after paying luxury-tax and revenue-sharing fees -- because of their lucrative television and radio contracts.
The Lakers' $158 million profit last season (before luxury taxes and revenue sharing) was more than double that of the franchise with the next-highest profit -- the Bulls ($75.7 million). The Bulls, Mavericks and Rockets all have made pitches to Anthony this week.
The New York Knicks are expected to make the final pitch to him, ESPNNewYork.com has reported.