Los Angeles Lakers Smart to Avoid Pairing Carmelo Anthony with Kobe Bryant

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2014

Deep within the cosmos, there exists an alternate universe where Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers need Carmelo Anthony.

In our universe, Anthony would totally be an impeccable fit for the Purple and Gold as well—you know, if he were a few years younger.

And if he didn't cost as much.

And if many of his offensive tendencies didn't overlap with Bryant's. 

So, to sum up, bringing 'Melo to Los Angeles, alongside the Black Mamba, doesn't make much sense—or any sense at all. The Lakers, desperate as they are for additional star power, aren't pretending he's what they need either.

Per the New York Post's Marc Berman, they're no longer interested in signing the free-agent forward. 

"The Lakers have cap space, but sources maintain they aren’t too interested in Anthony as a fit with Kobe Bryant," he writes. "Nor is Lakers president Jeanie Buss enthralled with stealing Anthony from Jackson, her fiance."

Premarital ethics aside, the Lakers aren't messing around. They know 'Melo isn't a lock to leave New York. 

More importantly, they haven't fooled themselves into thinking their chase will be worth the prize even if he is.


More Money, Less Players, More Problems

Stars cost money.

Truckloads of money.

Coin that the Lakers are scheduled to have.

Only three players are currently under guaranteed contracts for next season: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Bryant. Kent Bazemore has a qualifying offer worth roughly $1.1 million the Lakers will likely extend, and Ryan Kelly is in the same boat, though his is for just over $1 million. Kendall Marshall is also on a non-guaranteed contract worth under $1 million.

Assuming all six of those players return, and that the Lakers renounce their rights to other free agents such as Pau Gasol and Nick Young, they will have a little over $37 million in salary commitments on their ledger.

Toss in what they'll pay their seventh overall pick—Ben McLemore was drafted at No. 7 in 2013 and earned $2.9 million—and that number stands somewhere around $40 million. Throw in four more minimum cap holds ($507,336)—since the roster must have at least 12 players—and the Lakers will have over $42 million devoted to 11 players.

Marc Stein of ESPN says the NBA salary cap will increase to $63.2 million next season. That leaves the Lakers with at least $20-21 million in spending power, which may or may not be enough to nab Anthony.

The New York Knicks superstar can earn $22,458,401 in 2014-15, according to Larry Coon, author of the CBA FAQ. Either 'Melo would have to accept less, or the Lakers would have to create a little more room by renouncing the rights to one or more of their non-guaranteed contracts.

Think about what that means.

Best-case scenario has the Lakers moving forward with a core of Anthony, Bryant, Nash, Sacre, Bazemore, Marshall, Kelly, their No. 7 pick and an array of fillers. That team isn't winning any championships next season.

If Bryant or Nash is unable to remain relatively healthy, this group misses out on the playoffs entirely.


The Kobe-'Melo Connection

Finding a superstar who can coexist with Bryant isn't easy.

Ask Shaquille O'Neal.

Ask Dwight Howard.

Seek the advice of Andrew Bynum. (He can be found at the nearest bowling alley spending money he in no way earned.)

Gasol has been an anomaly. He has been Bryant's exception for six-plus seasons, the lone star No. 24 hasn't clashed with on a regular basis. 

Anthony can be Bryant's second exception, in theory. The two are friends, well-documented buddies who hold one another in high esteem.

"That's my guy," Bryant told Lakers Nation of 'Melo in July of 2012.

"His approach to a lot of things I definitely admire," Anthony said of Bryant in February of 2013, per Newsday's Al Iannazzone. "If I could take anything away from what we talked about, it was just his approach, how to approach different things, kind of how to block things and stay in his mind frame."

See, everything is cool between them. All is well and hunky-dory. The Mamba has even indirectly pitched Los Angeles to 'Melo.

"New York's a beautiful place, don't get me wrong," Bryant said in January, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "Palm trees and beaches, obviously a little bit more appealing."

Roughly 3,000 miles west of New York, the weather is most definitely better. The air is also a tad cleaner. There aren't as many people screaming expletives in your general direction, either. That's certainly a plus.

But this isn't just about Bryant and 'Melo going on dinner dates, taking family vacations and palm-Christmas tree shopping together. They must be able to play side by side on the court, complementing one another, thriving off one another, elevating the play of one another—which they can't do.

Both players have changed their styles for the better over the last two years. Bryant became more accustomed to running point and averaged at least six assists in each of the last two seasons, though he only appeared in six games this past year. Anthony, meanwhile, has developed into a lethal off-ball shooter, a weapon his extensive offensive arsenal lacked for nearly 10 years.

According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), 'Melo drilled 44.2 percent of his spot-up treys in 2013-14. Almost 14 percent of his offensive possessions that ended in field-goal attempts came as a standstill shooter as well.

To put that in perspective, Stephen Curry drilled 48.9 percent of his spot-up bombs, per Synergy, yet those situations accounted for just 7.8 percent of his offensive touches. While that doesn't make Anthony the better shooter—or even comparable—it is something to consider.

Late-career evolution doesn't change everything, unfortunately. Bryant and Anthony are still ball-dominant scorers at heart. Combine their career usage rates, and you have 63.5 percent of Los Angeles' offense invested in two players. A beyond rough estimate, yes, but relevant all the same.

If the Lakers are to have any hope of making this dyad work, they would need a star point guard...which they don't have. Nash will be lucky to appear in 50 games next season, and Marshall isn't experienced enough to balance the offensive egos of two superstars.

Ergo, the Lakers don't have enough complementary talent to give a Kobe-'Melo pairing the fighting chance it needs.


Brighter Future Without 'Melo

Push everything else aside. Forget it all. 

Is signing 'Melo worth sacrificing a chance to sign Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge or even LeBron James?


Signing Anthony doesn't merely complicate things for the Lakers this season. It ruins any hope they have of adding another superstar in 2015. 

Bryant and Anthony will account for nearly $50 million of the team's 2015-16 salary cap. That's not even factoring in their 2014 first-rounder, whomever else they bring in and the requisite cap holds.

Overly generous projections would have the Lakers with $10 million to spend leading into the summer of 2015. No more, probably less.

By landing Anthony, they forfeit the ability to remain active in free agency at a time when inordinate amounts of star power will hit the open market, as Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman explained:

I’d rather pair Kobe Bryant with Love, Aldridge or Gasol, anyway — maybe even Rondo too, health permitting. Melo and Kobe just overlap too much, and they’d step on each other’s toes more than they complement each other.

Obviously, LeBron is and should be the top priority if he’s interested, but that seems like a pipe dream.

Other 2014 free agents beyond those two are pretty underwhelming.

The real difference makers are in the class of 2015. Even if not all of them make it to free agency, the class of stars is deep enough that at least a few should. At that point, I like the Lakers’ odds of getting one.

Most of the available talent—from (possibly) James to Love to Rondo to Marc Gasol—are all better fits next to Bryant. There's no point in missing out on the opportunity to sign one or more of them for a then-30-year-old max superstar.

The Lakers need to get younger. They need players who can keep Bryant's title window open for two more seasons while serving as a cornerstone for the post-Mamba era. 

Under the most ideal circumstances, Anthony isn't that player. 

Two years from now, the Lakers would be dealing with the same issue. Come the summer of 2016, Bryant will retire without his sixth ring, 'Melo will be 32 and the team will be left trying to sell superstars in their prime—like Kevin Durant—on playing alongside another aging dignitary.

What's the benefit?

There isn't one. And thankfully—in this universe, anyway—the Lakers know it.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference. Salary information via ShamSports.


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