How 2014 LA Lakers Can Replicate Miami Heat Superteam Free-Agent Blueprint
More than three years later, the 2010 Miami Heat are still the standard for all things free agency.
Those who know the Lakers will understand that they're always going to dream big and attempt to execute even bigger. That's how it was before Kobe Bryant, and how it has stayed with him.
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.
Landing both LeBron and 'Melo, while retaining Kobe, won't be easy, but there was nothing simple about the Heat's situation in 2010.
Dwyane Wade was already in Miami, and LeBron and Chris Bosh left their respective franchises to join him in sunny Florida. This time, the Black Mamba would be the mainstay, and LeBron and 'Melo would charter due West to play with him.
Like I said, it's going to be difficult. But it's not impossible.
Neither is striking it huge in free agency if the Lakers don't land one or both of 'Melo and LeBron. Other stars will be on the market for them to chase. There will be plenty of opportunities for them to orchestrate a free-agency coup of their own.
All it's going to take is a ridiculous amount of planning and, yes, a little bit of luck, too.
Keep the Books Clean
Leading into the summer of 2014, the Lakers have nearly $50 million of cap space to work with, and that can't change.
Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young are the only players under contract after this season, the latter of which has to exercise a player option worth a shade over $1.2 million to return.
At most, the Lakers will have a smidgen under $12 million on the books that summer. Assuming the current salary cap (approximately $58.5 million) remains intact, that gives Los Angeles $46.5 million to burn through, or even more if the cap increases to, say, $60 million.
Mitch Kupchak has been smart since the Indecision finally concluded. No long-term contracts have been signed, and any deal that can extend beyond next season (like Young's) isn't fully guaranteed and/or it's easy to move.
During the course of the 2012-13 campaign, the temptation to flip Pau Gasol's expiring contract for a promising stretch forward could present itself, or something along those lines. If it does, the Lakers need to just say "no."
No trade can be pushed through and no player can be taken on that adds to their 2014-15 salary commitments. Aside from being located in Los Angeles and known for collecting titles like they're trading cards, financial flexibility is the Lakers' main selling point moving forward.
Unlike most teams, the Lakers can pitch prospective superstar free agents, like 'Melo and LeBron, on joining forces and contending for titles together. Compromising that ability, even slightly, could ruin everything.
And the Lakers just don't what that to happen.
I'm looking at Mike D'Antoni here.
We all know he's ridiculed for his aversion to coaching defense, and we all know that he and 'Melo had their problems in New York, but there's no use canning him now, or anytime soon.
No matter who you are, you can't build your team around the players you don't have. You can give yourself the means to acquire them, but you can't fire coaches on a whim.
If Magic Mike proves to be a deal breaker in negotiations with 'Melo or LeBron, then you assess the coaching situation. Otherwise, you leave it alone.
Miami didn't show Erik Spoelstra the door as soon as the Heat brought in more superstar egos than most coaches could handle. Pat Riley didn't race to the sidelines and replace Coach Spo with himself, so that LeBron knew he would be playing for a big-name executive.
Riley and the Heat let the process unfold. Had LeBron, Wade or even Bosh expressed concerns over Spo leading the team, it would have been handled. Los Angeles has to abide by the same rules.
Those hell-bent on the Lakers firing D'Antoni now for fear of him dissuading 'Melo from relocating need to chill. Stability is important to stars. They need to see the franchise is in control of itself.
Once numbers start to fly across the room, and the topic shifts from "maybe" to "putting pen to paper," then you ax who you need to and make any decisions you must.
Until then, stay the course. Don't make waves unless you absolutely must.
Use What You Have...
Only so much of a sales pitch can comprise future plans.
Titles that haven't been won yet can't be the lone selling point. Potential is important, but who's going to feel comfortable playing for a team that's constantly lusting after what they don't have?
The Lakers have plenty. They have 17 championships, a history of winning with superstars and a current superstar, champion and future Hall of Famer in Kobe.
There is no coup in 2010 without Wade, the incumbent star. Harp on rumors of collusion if you must, but even premeditated assemblies need to have an inside man, capable of wooing those unfamiliar with the surroundings you're trying to sell.
Kobe is that inside man, the deep-rooted star who can recruit his peers. He can show LeBron, 'Melo and whoever else the Lakers pursue his five championship rings. Regardless of who he's speaking with, and how many championships they themselves have won, he can say: I have more.
He can tell them that there isn't a franchise in the league more committed to contending than the Lakers. Not the Heat, New York Knicks nor anyone else.
Better still, he can say all that, and it will actually be true.
...And Make Sure What You Have Knows What to Do
One year from now, we shouldn't be hearing about Kobe telling LeBron, 'Melo or anyone else he can teach them how to win.
Whether that played a role in Howard leaving for the Houston Rockets doesn't matter. All that's important is ensuring it doesn't happen again.
Save for pointing to his five rings and acknowledging they're more than the player in question currently has, Kobe shouldn't be highlighting any flaws.
Instead, he should be showing Los Angeles' targets how dedicated he himself is too winning. I'm not talking about a photo montage of him dropping 50-plus points or grimacing through his current rehab. I'm saying he needs to make it clear he's going to take a pay cut.
Waiting until the dust settles isn't an option if Kobe is serious about reeling in some big fish next summer. Figure on taking a pay cut, Kobe. That's how it has to be.
Wade, LeBron and Bosh don't team up if they're all not willing to make sacrifices, both on and off the court. Concessions start with the current linchpin, the one who is already in place.
No one's asking Kobe to sign for the veteran's minimum. Making it abundantly clear he will do whatever it takes to get his next ring in order to facilitate the acquisition of two more superstars is the task at hand.
Should he not be willing to rise to the occasion, then the Lakers better start getting used to exploring contingency plans.
Know Your Limits
It seems simple enough, but it's rather complex.
Los Angeles can't waste time on free agents it doesn't have a shot at. If the Knicks win a championship next season (funny, right?), the Lakers shouldn't hedge all their bets on 'Melo spurning New York. If LeBron's vision of building a dynasty with the Heat are still alive (possible), they can't bank on him abandoning his troops after three straight titles.
Putting feelers out to other stars like Dwyane Wade or Paul George (should he hit the semi-open market) is a necessity. Show your primary targets you have other options, without isolating them or those other options.
Know your limits.
The Heat sure did in 2010. Their endeavors were calculated. They didn't waste time on players who were out of reach.
Which free agent will the Lakers sign next summer?
Were Wade to come out and say he won't be leaving Miami, don't attempt to promise LeBron he can bring his sidekick with him. Should someone near a deal with another team, or their current one, move on quickly. Languishing in defeat is unattractive.
Understanding who is accessible and who isn't is vital to Los Angeles' current blueprint. The plan now is to coax LeBron and/or 'Melo into leaving Miami and New York for Los Angeles.
Plans change, though. Being the boy scout of an NBA team that they are, the Lakers must be prepared in case they do.
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