Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers
The Purple and Gold have nearly cleared their books for the 2014 summer and should have roughly $50 million in cap room available to spend. Granted, the Lakers will more than likely re-sign Bryant in the same offseason, which will eat into that figure.
If the Lakers can negotiate a deal with the superstar within range of about $15 million per season, the Lakers will have something resembling roughly $35 million in cap space to spend on the open market.
The Lakers will have to prioritize and go after players who not only can play alongside Bryant, but can also carry the team once the five-time world champion retires.
Consequently, the franchise must set its sights on 30-year-olds or younger. This disqualifies players such as Zach Randolph, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. Furthermore, the Lakers cannot hitch their wagon to guys with potential when chasing free agents.
The league’s most glamorous franchise needs players with credentials as professionals. They must put the team in championship contention when playing with Bryant, and history tells us that title teams have numerous great players.
This eliminates Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe from the discussion.
The last criterion is durability. The Lakers went through a train wreck of a season in 2012-13 because of the numerous injuries the team faced. Some of that can be attributed to bad luck, but the franchise must ensure its best players can participate in at least 80 percent of its contests.
Thus, when discussing free agents, we will look at participation rate in their three most recent seasons and use it to project their future availability.
LeBron James of the Miami Heat
By the time the 2014 offseason kicks off, he will be 29 years old and thus can lead the franchise after the Kobe System stops performing. James is perhaps the most decorated player in his prime today by virtue of his four NBA MVP trophies, two Finals MVP trophies and seven All-NBA first-team selections.
Furthermore, in his first three seasons with the Miami Heat, he appeared in 94 percent of the regular-season games.
James has an early-termination option that allows him to hit free agency in 2014, and should he exercise it, he undeniably vaults to the top of the Lakers’ wish list.
It’s worth noting that James might be coming off a third straight title and thus decline to opt out of his contract after 2013-14. Also, in the event he terminates his contract, it’s very likely he will remain with the Heat given the team’s supremacy.
Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks
The New York Knicks superstar is one of the most creative scorers in the league, and that skill has earned him six All-Star selections as well as six appearances on the All-NBA team (four on the third team and two on the second team).
Since the 2010-11 campaign, Anthony has suited up in 199 out of a possible 230 games (86.5 percent) and averaged 24.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game during that time frame.
The scoring machine has an early-termination clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Should the Lakers miss out on LeBron James, Anthony is the next-best option.
There is obviously a risk that Anthony will remain with the Knicks whether he opts out or not since the team has been built around him. Nonetheless, one should not discount the allure of the city of Los Angeles as well the opportunity to play with a superstar such as Bryant. The Lakers’ odds of signing away the Knicks’ star have to be about even.
Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat
Chris Bosh’s production has taken a dip in his time with the Miami Heat because of the sacrifices he has made playing alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Nonetheless, he is still one of the best power forwards in the league.
The left-handed big man will be 30 years old once free agency opens up in the 2014 summer. His post-up game and his smooth long-range shooting have earned him eight All-Star selections and an appearance on the All-NBA second team.
At times when the Heat struggle, Bosh becomes a punching bag of sorts (just type his name in the YouTube search bar and you'll get the idea) and sees his toughness questioned. And yet, the third Heatle has played in 208 out of a possible 230 games (90.4 percent) since joining Miami.
Pairing him up with Kobe Bryant and perhaps Carmelo Anthony or one of the other free agents on this list turns the Los Angeles Lakers into a Western Conference contender.
Bosh is under contract but has a clause allowing him to opt out and hit the open market in the 2014 offseason.
With that said, Bosh’ defection from Miami has to be considered fairly unlikely for the same reasons as LeBron James. The Heat might be coming off a third straight title and the core of Dwyane Wade, James and Bosh are all relatively close enough in age that breaking up the trio is almost senseless.
Paul George of the Indiana Pacers
Paul George’s stock rose during the 2013 playoffs, where the basketball world saw him emerge as one of the best two-way perimeter players in the league. The rest of the NBA had been paying attention, though, and he was selected as both an All-Star and All-NBA third-team performer during the 2012-13 campaign.
George will be 24 years old by the time the 2014 offseason kicks off, which means he can potentially become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers for the next decade.
The Indiana Pacer is full of promise, and many are hoping his game evolves as he grows older. With that said, a failure on his part to improve is hardly the worst thing in the world. He has proven he affects games in numerous ways, and the Lakers stand to benefit from his talent.
During three seasons in the league, George has appeared in 206 of the 230 regular-season games (89.6 percent) the Pacers have played.
When the 2014 offseason arrives, George will be a restricted free agent. This means the Pacers will have the right to match whatever contract terms the Lakers present the swingman. Hence, the Purple and Gold may have to overpay the athletic specimen to ensure they have a shot at securing his services.
George has to be considered the face of the Pacer organization, which makes his departure quite unlikely. Indiana will do everything possible to retain him, which means the Lakers probably have no shot at him.
Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls
Luol Deng has consistently proven he is among the best two-way perimeter players in the league. That makes him an attractive commodity as well as a productive one.
The former Duke Blue Devil will be 29 years old by the time free agents hit the market in the 2014 summer, which gives him an opportunity to remain with the Los Angeles Lakers for a fairly lengthy period of time.
His skills on both sides of the ball have earned him two All-Star selections. In addition, Deng has been quite durable throughout his NBA career. Since the 2010-11 season, he has appeared in 211 of the Chicago Bulls’ 230 contests.
The Lakers can use the Bull at shooting guard, small forward and in a few small-ball lineups given his versatility.
Deng is certainly an interesting piece and the Lakers can use him. Also, he is the type of player Mike D’Antoni will fall in love with and play a boatload of minutes. That makes the Laker franchise an attractive landing spot for Deng and one has to believe Mitch Kupchak probably has good if not great odds of acquiring him.