For most teams, rebuilding is a long and laborious process that involves terrible records, high draft picks, years of waiting for player development and a certain amount of good fortune. The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t most teams. Their reconstruction will probably be a one-year process that will restock the shelves with top-flight talent and make them an immediate contender in 2014-15.
With boatloads of cap space, Mitch Kupchak will be looking at the superstar free agents that could hit the market next summer—none of whom are bigger than LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Both LeBron and Anthony have early termination options on their contracts that could see them opt out and join new teams.
While they would leave a lot of money on the table, they would undoubtedly be able to get maximum contracts anyway, and they both may be looking for a change of scenery by this time next year.
LeBron May Face Another Tough 'Decision'
LeBron James is entering the season with a three-peat on his mind. Normally such aspirations wouldn’t spell an impending departure, but the Miami Heat have some daunting questions that need to be answered to quell the nervous chatter that has only grown louder in the past months.
The status of Dwyane Wade’s knees is uncertain, and that is a terrifying thought. LeBron showed us on multiple occasions throughout the playoffs that he can carry the team with an ailing Wade and invisible Chris Bosh, but that’s not what he envisioned when he made his infamous decision.
If Wade’s knees remain a problem that robs him of playing time and athleticism, the Heat are a significantly weaker team that doesn’t look so invincible.
Additionally, the Heat must address their lack of size and rebounding, which were exploited by the Indiana Pacers to great success in the conference finals. Bringing back Chris Andersen is a good start, but they need much more depth and talent in their frontcourt, or they’ll be the worst-rebounding team in the league for the second-straight year.
Speaking of those Pacers, they’re hungry for a rematch. Paul George and Roy Hibbert will have one more year of experience and development under their belts, and Danny Granger’s return will give them a potent scoring option—hopefully with a second unit that was a serious weakness for them last year.
Like the Pacers, the Chicago Bulls’ physicality and rebounding gave the Heat fits in the playoffs, so imagine what they could do with a healthy Derrick Rose. Also returning from injury will be Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have their sights set on a return to the Finals.
The point is that while the Miami Heat are still the team to beat, they may not hold on to that title for long. Younger teams are getting better and quickly closing the gap between themselves and the defending champs.
If Dwyane Wade shows any lingering effects of his knee injury, their championship window may already be closing, and LeBron James will not hesitate to take his talents to a contender that will be viable for the next four years.
LeBron is also all about business, and he will be hard-pressed to find a team that can provide all the off-court amenities that Los Angeles does. It’s not like he really needs the help, but Los Angeles is the second-biggest NBA market, and it would help take his marketability and endorsements to another level.
Maybe even to a Jordanesque level.
The brand matters to LeBron James. Market power matters to LeBron James. Championships matter to LeBron James—for his legacy as well as his marketability. Los Angeles provides him with all three, and it’s something he is sure to think more about IF the Miami Heat start to show some cracks.
Could 'Melo and Mamba Co-exist?
Carmelo Anthony loves the spotlight of playing in Madison Square Garden, the “Mecca of Basketball.” He loves the history, the attention and the fans, but those fans are a rabid and unforgiving bunch that is desperate for a championship-caliber squad to support.
Quite frankly, the New York Knicks aren’t close to winning a championship…at all. The Knicks are severely overpaying for the services of Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and now Andrea Bargnani, and they don’t have the depth or overall talent to win a championship.
Assuming Derrick Rose comes back fully healthy, the Knicks are currently looking like the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. A first-round playoff exit is in the cards, and that won’t reduce any of the criticism that is heaped on Anthony’s shoulders.
With no cap room in sight for two years (unless Stoudemire and Bargnani suddenly decide that they don’t want $30 million combined), Anthony’s best chance at a championship might be with another team.
If you can’t play in New York, Los Angeles is a pretty spectacular Plan B. The market, the spotlight and the history of winning will all appeal to Anthony. If that’s not enough of a reason, the fact that it is a better place for his wife’s entertainment career might be an important factor.
Furthermore, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have become close friends over their Olympic adventures, and they have repeatedly shown great respect and admiration for each other’s games. The chance to play with Kobe and a retooled Lakers roster including Steve Nash might be too good to pass up.
Who Will Be a Laker in 2014?
The primary target will be LeBron James, but ESPN’s Chris Broussard has repeatedly said that he believes LeBron would like to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. This current Cavs squad has way more talent than any of the Cleveland teams that LeBron played with, and a reunion could be an enticing option for King James.
Let’s also not rule out the possibility of him remaining in Miami, where Pat Riley is sure to have plans to surround him with the necessary talent needed to contend. When it comes to LeBron, we’ll just have to wait and see how this year plays out.
If Wade's health is not a question mark, the Miami Heat will still be the favorite to win it all, and LeBron James may not have to leave after all.
For Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, his options seem much clearer. The New York Knicks are not a contender now, and they will not be one in the following season either. Maybe in two years they can rebuild from scratch, but why would Anthony wait that long in the first place?
Nobody can provide him with the whole package quite like the Lakers, and once it becomes clear the Knicks are going nowhere, I expect him to start dreaming of The City of Angels. Mitch Kupchak and Kobe Bryant will be ready to welcome him with open arms. The only thing that could prevent it would be LeBron wanting to be a Laker as well.
Either way, things are looking pretty rosy in Hollywood. Maybe not right now, but give it a year. Kobe Bryant won't stay out of the title hunt for too long.