Last week, the basketball world's least-surprising secret came to light when the New York Observer printed an interview detailing Carmelo Anthony's desire to become a free agent after the 2013-14 season.
Since then, many basketball writers have speculated that the list of Anthony's suitors boils down to the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News summed up the Lakers appeal:
When asked about the long-held belief that the Lakers would pursue him, Anthony said: "What other team would they say? I don’t think they would say any other team. If you look at situations, that’s the only team that they probably would say."
The Lakers will have cap space, and Anthony is close to Kobe Bryant. Also, Anthony owns a home in Los Angeles, and his wife, La La, is a working actress in Hollywood. Needless to say, if Anthony leaves the Knicks, it won’t be for a small market team.
If you look closely at Melo's quote, he merely acknowledges the fact that people will inevitably tie him to the Lakers…which makes sense, since every NBA superstar free agent is always tied to the Lakers.
Of the Lakers' drawing points listed in that article—cap space, Kobe, Melo's house, Melo's wife's job, the large market—only two are directly basketball-related. As for the cap space, the Knicks can still beat any number the Lakers can offer, so that is pretty much a moot point.
But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the Knicks and Lakers offer Melo the exact same contract: Would the Lakers make sense for Melo, and would Melo make sense for the Lakers?
For Melo, the main drawing point here seems to be the opportunity to play alongside Kobe Bryant. At this point in their careers, very little separates a healthy Kobe from a healthy Melo.
Both are tremendous scorers who dominate the basketball and work mostly on the perimeter: Last year Melo and Kobe finished first and third overall in the NBA in usage rate. Neither player is an asset on defense: Last year Lakers opponents scored 4.3 more points per 100 possessions with Kobe on the floor, and Knicks opponents scored 2.3 more points per 100 possessions with Melo on the court.
Offense was not the reason the Lakers struggled in 2012-13. They finished the season ranked ninth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, but only 19th in defensive efficiency. And for all Dwight Howard's melodrama, he was not the reason they couldn't defend: Lakers opponents scored 5.0 fewer points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor.
Now that the Lakers have lost not only Howard, but also their second-best defender (Metta World Peace), they need quality defenders in the worst way. Carmelo Anthony, for all his many talents, is simply not that guy.
It makes little sense for the Lakers to offer a max deal to a volume scorer who doesn't defend well when their best player is already a volume scorer who doesn't defend well. Even if Melo and Kobe are the best of friends, they are still, at heart, a couple of alpha-dog scorers who are used to taking the vast majority of their team's shots. As the old saying goes, there's only one ball to go around.
Neither the Knicks nor the Lakers are probably in much of a position to contend for a title going forward with Carmelo Anthony tied up on a max deal. But the Knicks are already built to showcase Melo's abilities and have a potential future star to complement him in third-year guard Iman Shumpert.
And say what you want about Knicks fans, but after 40 years without a title, they are certainly used to dealing with disappointment. The Lakers are nearing the end of a glorious five-title reign, and the next big-name free agent will be hard-pressed to come even close to matching that level of success.
Carmelo Anthony and the Lakers are a match in name only—he is a star player and they are a star franchise. In truth, however, they might just be the worst thing ever to happen to one another.
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