NEW YORK – You might interpret some of Kobe Bryant’s comments Sunday before the Los Angeles Lakers lost their latest game to the New York Knicks as recruiting pitches for his friend Carmelo Anthony to leave the Knicks for the Lakers via free agency this summer.
For example: “Everybody wants to play in Los Angeles. New York’s a beautiful place; don’t get me wrong. But it’s cold as (expletive) out here.”
Or about free agents relocating being viewed as chasing championships: “It’s a familiar story with LeBron James, and he seemed to turn out OK.”
Well, there are some substantial obstacles in the way of Anthony coming to the Lakers, and one of them is that it’d just to be too cute for La La to live in L.A. (Anthony’s wife, La La, is also good friends with Vanessa Bryant.)
Let’s tally up the seven most significant issues with Carmelo going to the Lakers:
1. If you listened to Bryant’s entire pregame media session, it was clear that Bryant wasn’t really intimating anything with regard to Anthony. In fact, Bryant said “all jokes aside,” he leaves it up to each player and his family with the caveat on Anthony “if he wants to call me for advice later.”
2. Anthony has a lot of red flags sprouting out of his game, including on the defensive side where the Lakers have all white flags. With Bryant and Anthony, the Lakers would be putting forth nearly $50 million a year for two players similar in their ball-stopping offense and non-stopping defense. Mike D’Antoni, for how much he sneers at post-up plays, called a bunch of them for Jordan Hill to go after Anthony on Sunday.
3. Anthony has a lot of red flags sprouting out of his character, including how he set himself up for all this losing in New York by forcing his way there via trade and diminishing the Knicks’ roster (though netting some more cash) instead of waiting to go there via free agency. D’Antoni’s decision to have overmatched rookie Ryan Kelly guarding Anthony on Sunday was an indication how much better he saw the Lakers’ chances of winning if he encouraged Anthony to focus on his individual game.
4. It’s not Bryant’s decision anyway. It’s the Lakers’ decision. And for the aforementioned two red-flag reasons, well, the Lakers aren’t sold.
5. Anthony might not view the glamour of the other coast’s big city, with Bryant leaning toward retiring in 2016, as a compelling draw. New York can offer him an extra year worth roughly $35 million on his next contract. There are few other desirable max-slot destinations, but the Chicago Bulls, with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, could conceivably offer maximum dollars and a better chance to win, as Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote.
6. D’Antoni and Anthony can’t co-exist, as evidenced by their time together in New York. D’Antoni was practically squirming in his shoes before the Lakers’ 16th loss in 19 games not because of how bad his team has become, but because the New York media probed him with questions about Anthony. The coach began to comment on Anthony, saying, “I’m speculating…” before abruptly slamming on the brakes and saying: “Good opportunity for me to keep my mouth shut.” Despite what a sizable section of the fan base thinks, the Lakers like what D’Antoni has done this season and he has a guaranteed $4 million salary for 2014-15. If the Lakers didn’t adhere to the wishes of Dwight Howard to shun D’Antoni for Phil Jackson, there’s no reason to believe that the franchise is going to ditch the coach to lure Anthony.
7. Even if it makes Bryant’s burden awful heavy next season, the Lakers can just save their money and go for a younger, more dependable, better-fitting free-agent star in 2015. Structuring a max deal not for Anthony, but for restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe, 24, makes more sense this summer—even though the Phoenix Suns seem inclined to match any offer to retain him. (Worth noting: LeBron James, the Lakers' obvious free-agent target if he’s out there in 2015 or ’16, is a huge Bledsoe backer.) Otherwise, the Lakers have it in mind that the superior free agent pool is coming in 2015, even if it leaves Bryant largely wasting what could be one of his last two seasons in the NBA.
The seventh sign is the one that really bears analyzing. The idea that the Lakers don’t even try to bring in enough talent—assuming for argument’s sake here that Anthony does want to be a Laker—goes against Bryant’s fundamental position that he must compete for a title.
But retrace the Lakers’ steps. Mitch Kupchak has said it repeatedly: The Lakers already got one of the elite 2014 free agents…Kobe Bryant. For all the backlash over Bryant’s contract extension coming too early and for too many dollars, the Lakers locked him up before he could think too much about how bad these guys around him might actually be. He’s now Lakers property, surrendering his leverage.
That’s not to say Bryant won’t squawk if he doesn’t like what he sees in the offseason. Despite Bryant often saying he now leaves things to the front office, he’s not the type to toil away in the back and ignore perceived injustice. This is what he said Sunday while talking about Anthony’s Knicks plight:
“From a psychological perspective, as a player you don't want to get too frustrated about things you can't control, so you have to find that balance. At the same time, it's important for the organization to understand the level of competitiveness that you have, that you won't tolerate having a team that's not in contention for an NBA championship, which is what I did (in 2007). You rub a lot of people the wrong way, but sometimes you've got to kick down a few doors and piss some people off and trust that it'll pay off in the long run.”
A scenario where Carmelo wants to come and Kobe wants him to come and the Lakers just aren’t feeling it…now that’d be awfully interesting.
There’s no denying Bryant’s interest in Anthony, whom Bryant once called from home in the Denver Nuggets locker room during a game. (Anthony, then a Nugget, was there because he’d just been ejected, as seen by Bryant via TV, so he made the call of support.) It was also interesting to see Sunday how Bryant knows, without prompting, the exact amount of time Anthony has been in the league: 11 years.
For everyone who thinks the rest of this Lakers season is just a waste of time, we’re all going to use it to gather more information on this matter in particular. We get to find out what kind of player Bryant is—or still is. The Lakers can judge accordingly whether Anthony’s game would be duplicative. And from Anthony’s standpoint, if Bryant is clearly not up to snuff, then joining the Lakers loses a lot of luster.
Maybe Nick Young, who has shown so much growth this season, proves that his scoring game actually can work in tandem with Bryant, his idol. Maybe that also shows us something about how Anthony and Bryant would be able to share the ball.
Maybe it becomes clear—whether the Lakers find a taker willing to give a future asset for a potential Pau Gasol late-season rental—the Lakers most need a big man like Shaquille O’Neal or Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge/Kevin Love/Marc Gasol via 2015 free agency.
Maybe the ultimate conclusion, and this might well be it, is that the Lakers really need an infusion of top-shelf athleticism (i.e. Bledsoe), not shot-making, to help Bryant win.
Bryant is set to be checked in the next couple days to determine if his knee fracture has healed. He sure hopes so, saying he looks forward to doing “more things than riding a bike. That’s killing me.”
For now, it’s killing the Lakers, too. They’re 4-16 during this latest Bryant absence and nine-and-a-half games out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
And that’s why it’s inevitable to start thinking about what could be an ooh-la-la-exciting—or very quiet and merely stop-gap—Lakers offseason.