For this summer's list of NBA "Would You Rather" questions, there may not be a harder one than this.
Would you rather coach the Los Angeles Lakers, where there's pressure to deliver now (for Kobe Bryant) and later (for the front office) with limited resources to do either? Or take over the New York Knicks, where even Phil Jackson isn't immune from owner James Dolan's reported meddling and current star Carmelo Anthony's tenure could be finished in a matter of weeks?
Did I mention the Lakers have all of three players on their 2014-15 payroll, but more than $35 million in salary commitments? Or that the Knicks don't have a draft pick this year (and won't again in 2016), but they do have nearly $50 million invested for next season in Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler?
Basically, do you want to step inside a purple-and-gold stained bear trap or would blue and orange go better with your suit?
The franchises might seem to be going nowhere fast—they went a combined 64-100 in 2013-14—yet both remain desirable destinations. It will take some remodeling to really see them as such, but the built-in resources (market size, massive asset collections, history) tantalize the mind over how good the finished product might look.
If the Lakers and Knicks come calling, you still have to answer. But if both put a contract offer in front of you, which should you sign?
There are arguments to be made for either side.
The Case for L.A.
The Lakers are coming off their second-worst season in franchise history, but there's a chance for the next coach to put his fingerprints all over the cleanup effort.
Those numerous roster openings are good things. It means a coach won't inherit a group built for a certain style, which can prove highly problematic when it doesn't mesh with that of the coach (see: D'Antoni, Mike).
Assuming someone mans the position sooner than later, that overhaul will begin on draft night.
While the Lakers slipped back to the No. 7 spot, they could still find an impact player like Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and James Young (all projected to be available on the mock draft of Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman). If L.A. targets a young coaching mind with time to grow, this player ideally makes the job that much easier.
L.A. doesn't have to keep the pick, though. If it's looking for an instant return, it could move the selection in a trade, something general manager Mitch Kupchak has said he would consider:
The flexibility with that draft pick is something the Knicks do not have. The same could be said of the Lakers' largely clean financial books that the team could cash in now or next summer. Either way, it seems roster reinforcements will be coming soon.
"The Lakers are a franchise looking to reload in relatively short order between an upcoming lottery pick and the cap room for a max offer," Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated wrote. "There’s progress to be made in the short term and a beloved market (and landmark franchise) to be leveraged in the long term."
The Lakers need to find another star, but they have avenues to potentially land one (or more).
Steve Nash will be working on an expiring $9.7 million contract next season, via ShamSports.com, and Bryant's massive extension (two years, $48.5 million) will expire the following year. The Lakers can hit the free-agent market hard whenever they decide to strike, and this front office usually hits its mark when it goes star-searching.
"It's easy to forget how much positive buzz they generated when they struck deals to bring in Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard," ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote. "...If acquiring a superstar is the first step to competing for NBA championships, they've shown the ability to do so."
It's really not that hard with so many positives to sell.
Like the Hollywood faithful eager to crown Bryant's heir apparent, and the marketing opportunities that will surely follow. Or those 16 championship banners hanging from the Staples Center rafters (as opposed to the two the Knicks have raised at Madison Square Garden). Or the wonderful weather that even Jackson admitted during his introductory press conference as the Knicks team president.
"Last week, it was 80 degrees in L.A. and I was hanging out at the beach with the water out in front of the house. It was beautiful,” Jackson told reporters in March. "And coming to New York, it was 28 degrees yesterday when I landed, or 24."
All of that is included in the Lakers' recruiting pitch, not just for their next coach but also any roster additions they'll make down the line.
That's why amid all of the storm clouds hanging over L.A., the forecast still looks bright for the future:
This front office has shown it holds a short leash (D'Antoni lasted 154 games, 83 more than his predecessor, Mike Brown), but it could lengthen if the franchise takes a patient approach with this rebuild.
The biggest current issue might be connecting with Bryant.
"He's under contract for two more years, and we think he's a very integral part of this team," Kupchak said, via Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding. "We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach can really get the most productivity out of him."
If working with Bryant is the biggest challenge, it's one that coaches might welcome.
The 35-year-old is a historically special player with an insatiable work ethic. If the next coach wants to win now, he'll be riding the same bus as the Black Mamba.
The Case for New York
While the Lakers have their share of geographic advantages, the Knicks might have the one that really matters.
New York plays in the Eastern Conference, where a passing participation grade often comes with a playoff berth attached. It took just 38 wins for the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks to qualify for postseason play. The Minnesota Timberwolves won 40 games this season—and finished 10th in the West.
The Knicks had a disastrous season and still finished just one game out of the playoff picture. Plus, assuming Anthony returns, this roster still features seven players from New York's 54-win team from 2012-13.
Deposed coach Mike Woodson couldn't manage the on-hand talent this season, but that doesn't mean the next head man will suffer the same fate.
Anthony's obviously the most pivotal piece of the puzzle, and his uncertain future cloaks this roster with question marks like The Riddler's jacket.
He has plans to opt out of his current deal and surely no shortage of potential suitors. But, as Marc Berman of the New York Post explained, those teams would need to jump through several financial hoops to get in the Anthony bidding:
Two of his prime candidates, Houston and Chicago, still have to get far enough under the salary cap to make it worth it for Anthony. The Bulls may have to rid themselves of Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson on a squad that was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. Plus, Anthony would be banking on the uncertain future of the oft-injured Derrick Rose.
The Rockets were also knocked out in the first round and need to get rid of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to get under the salary cap.
New York could win the Anthony sweepstakes by default, but that wouldn't lessen the significance of the victory.
He's by far the most attractive piece on either roster. Bryant made just six appearances this season while dealing with a pair of serious leg injuries (first a torn Achilles, then a knee fracture). Anthony, meanwhile, enjoyed one of his best years as a pro, averaging 27.4 points on .452/.402/.848 shooting and a career-best 8.1 rebounds to go along with a 24.4 player efficiency rating (seventh best in the league, via Basketball-Reference.com).
His supporting cast might not be 54-win good, but on paper it doesn't seem 45-loss bad, either.
While we've all written and talked about how disastrous those (Knicks) contracts are, as soon as we hit July 1 they all get pretty appealing (between Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani, and Iman Shumpert, the Knicks have approximately $53 million in deals that expire after next season). And you as well as I know that it's almost like the switch flips right then, when it goes from horrible contract to good asset.
That spending room could grow even more should Anthony hold true to his word that he'd be willing to accept a pay cut so the Knicks could "build something strong." And New York still owns its 2015 first-round selection (for now, at least), which could help deepen a potentially strong collection of assets.
"I'm already envisioning a 2015-16 roster featuring Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo," ESPN.com's Israel Gutierrez wrote.
Of course, the Knicks could even swoop in and pull off a miracle trade for Love yet this summer.
Perhaps that's being overly optimistic, but remember how sharp the basketball mind is that will be plotting these architectural drawings. It's impossible to ignore Jackson's lack of front-office experience, but it's just as hard to pretend his treasure trove of championship rings (11 as a coach, two more as a player) does not exist.
And it's not as if the Lakers' brass boasts the most impressive track record either. Howard made it through a single season in L.A. before bolting for the Houston Rockets, Nash's body won't allow him to make an impact and the last two coaching hires have left plenty to be desired.
The Knicks have more weapons than the Lakers now, arguably more wiggle room for next summer considering the weight of Bryant's deal and the Zen Master's brilliance to help guide the next coach along.
Look, there are "Proceed With Caution" signs lining the paths to either franchise but also reasons applicants are still interested in making the journey.
No matter how dim things may look now, these clubs can afford to buy their ways out of darkness.
So, which is the better option?
It's the Lakers—by a photo finish.
The Knicks have some intriguing assets down the line, but the Lakers have the tools to start rebuilding now. With a lottery pick in what could be the deepest draft in a decade plus the space to make a substantial free-agent splash (now or in 2015), L.A. can prepare its next coach to make a final run with Bryant (or two), then start attacking with a new core.
Both situations require a coach willing to take a leap of faith, so why not side with the franchise that always seems to land on its feet? Including this year, the Lakers have had four seasons in their history with a winning percentage below .400. The Knicks have had five since the 2001-02 campaign and 16 overall.
With so many similarities between the positions, that historical difference could loom large as the deciding factor in this debate.
Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
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