With the New York Knicks struggling and the Lakers even worse off, much has been made of Anthony's impending free agency. Will he leave? If so, where will he go? Can the Los Angeles Clippers legally pay him in empty promises?
One of the most talked-about destinations has been Los Angeles—specifically the Lakers, who can create enough cap space to make Anthony a sizable offer. While his name itself is enough to get the excitement juices going, though, there's so much wrong with a potential Anthony pursuit, it's almost a turn-off.
Or rather, it was almost a turn-off.
Pining for the days when they were a powerhouse, the Lakers don't have the luxury of patience. Tradition demands they win. Bryant demands they win.
"The important thing is winning a championship," Bryant said of Anthony shedding his current stigma, per the New York Daily News' Peter Botte. "That’s the only way to shake it. That’s the only way Michael [Jordan] shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer will be able to shake it."
One of the only ways for the Lakers to shake free of this present rut is to be aggressive in their quest for change, starting with the addition of another superstar such as Anthony.
Win Now Means Win Now
Bryant wasn't extended for another two years so the Lakers could waste his time.
This season is already a lost cause. The Lakers aren't going to contend for a championship, let alone make the playoffs. At 16-29, they're 9.5 games back of the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Good luck even trimming that deficit out west, where anything less than greatness might as well show itself out.
Short of any miracles—such as, you know, an edict from the NBA that stipulates the West's other 14 teams must play blindfolded with one hand tied behind their backs while sporting cinder blocks for shoes—Los Angeles will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004-05. Bryant will then turn 36 this August, at which point the word "wait" won't be in his vocabulary.
"Wait" has never been a word he's accepted anyway.
Every year he expects to contend for a championship because he's Bryant—a scoring virtuoso and defier of logic who's ignorant to the stages of rebuilding.
See what I mean?
Even now, when the Lakers are so far outside the playoff picture that head coach Mike D'Antoni's mustache is no longer visible, Bryant articulates "championships" without choking on the verbal gibberish he just spewed.
This is one time his impatience makes sense though. He won't be around forever, and if he's learned anything this season, it's that his NBA clock is ticking.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding confirmed that Los Angeles plans to rebuild via free agency for this reason, among others:
Let’s be clear about this much: The Lakers do not—listen up, you most skeptic of septic tankers, they do not—plan to get back to championship level through the draft.
To be honest, they’ve rightly planned far more for the chance to snag the best player in the game who was still very much doing his thing for Miami on Thursday night with 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
Same as they did in preparation for 2007 free agency on the chance that James wouldn’t be staying in Cleveland, the Lakers have structured their payroll to be ready whenever James is next a free agent. They’re ready if he opts out this summer (though it’s unimaginable he would leave if Miami won again and also unimaginable he would leave and evoke memories of Cleveland by deserting Miami if the Heat lost), if he opts out next summer (possibly) or when his contract expires in 2016 (valid).
But this is not all about LeBron; this is about free agency, which has always been the Lakers’ plan because they rightly believe—Dwight Howard’s provincial view notwithstanding—that they are an attractive destination with a very warm and large spotlight.
Armed with almost enough cap space to offer a max contract, the Lakers have no Bryant-approved excuses. They cannot sell him on the prospect of playing with a potential top-five pick from this summer or the prospect of going free-agency crazy in 2015.
Money is available to be spent now. To pair Bryant with another superstar now. To escape this hellish Abaddon that Bryant calls the "lottery" now.
If Not 'Melo...
After establishing that the Lakers need another star to assure themselves of a fulfilling 2014-15, it's time to look at the crop of free agents available. Unbeknownst to many, it's slim pickings.
The Lakers are positioned to make a run at LeBron James and whoever else hits the open market, but this year's crop of free agents might not even comprise James. Or Dwyane Wade. Or Chris Bosh. If the Miami Heat's Big Three decide to give it one more go, the depth of free agents will plummet.
Anthony has already made it clear he intends to explore his options. He will actually become available. And not only will he become available, he, unlike any excuses Los Angeles can offer, is already Bryant-approved.
"I think that players, when that time comes, have to make the best decision for them and their families," Bryant said of Anthony's free agency, via CBS Sports' Ken Berger. "I try not to think about it too much. If he wants to call me for advice later, as a friend, I'll be more than happy to give it to him."
Forget that both Anthony and Bryant are ball-dominating scorers who, at this stage of their careers, are no more valuable on defense than hair gel is to Mike Woodson. Never mind that the NBA probably won't allow them to play with two balls at once.
Bryant likes Anthony. Like, he's actually friends with him.
Appeasing Bryant is no easy task—not even for a team, such as the Lakers, that is etched in championship lore. It's the reason why he almost left multiple times and the reason why he and Shaquille O'Neal never got along.
But he and Anthony get along just fine.
"That's my guy," Bryant said of 'Melo in a July 2012 interview with Lakers Nation.
Finding another superstar is oftentimes a separate event from finding someone who meshes personally with Bryant. Going all-in on Anthony points the Lakers in direction of both.
Waiting Is Risky
Waiting may be the sensible option.
Let this summer go by, endure one more season of unorthodox roster construction and mediocrity. Then, in 2015, chase Kevin Love, who, one executive told Berger, "wants to go to the Lakers."
Invest in him when he's 26 in 2015 rather than a 30-year-old Anthony in July. One more season. Just wait. Just wait and see.
And then hope it doesn't backfire.
When prospective targets look at Los Angeles in 2015, the Lakers hope they'll see an organization with propensities for winning, a chance to play alongside Bryant for one year or more and an opportunity to court Kevin Durant and other big names in 2016.
What they could also see is a Mamba approaching 37, on his last leg and incapable of playing at a championship level, even though he's slated to earn $25 million. They could see more reasons to sign elsewhere.
What happens then?
Assuming Anthony is willing to play with Bryant and accept the Lakers as they are, general manager Mitch Kupchak and friends must consider pushing for him—if only because he ensures they won't enter the 2015-16 season still empty-handed, attempting to quell the unsatisfied cries of a 37-year-old superstar.
What Will the Lakers Do?
This entire process isn't all cut-and-dry. Complex factors come into play, and there's a case to be made for each side of the argument.
But the Lakers will ultimately have to pick a side: Team Kobe and 'Melo, or Team Kobe and a star to be determined later (maybe)?
I've previously said the Lakers shouldn't pursue Anthony and Bryant, and I stand by that.
Things have changed from a Lakers' perspective, though. They weren't supposed to be this bad, this far away from contention. Steve Nash and Bryant were supposed to be healthy, and they were supposed to make a playoff run.
Those hopes are gone, buried beneath a pile of ash that is Los Angeles' season.
The way things are now, standing pat and waiting for 2015 ensures the Lakers of one thing and one thing only: another season like this. And Bryant won't stand for that. Their fans won't stand for that.
Quick turnarounds are all the Lakers, Bryant and their supporters know. Aggressively pursuing Anthony gives the appearance that's what Los Angeles is still committed to. If the team misses out, then so be it. At least the team tried.
"Championship is the only thing that’s on my mind, is the only thing I want to accomplish, I want to achieve, and I’m going to do what I got to do to get that," Anthony told reporters, via ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
Nothing allows the Lakers to create hope and sell futures, however uncertain, other than an unbridled attempt to pair the championship-hungry Bryant with an equally famished Anthony.
*Salary information courtesy of ShamSports.