Should Los Angeles Lakers Pursue Carmelo Anthony in Free Agency?

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Should Los Angeles Lakers Pursue Carmelo Anthony in Free Agency?
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers need to rebuild their roster, and the New York KnicksCarmelo Anthony could certainly be an interesting place to start.

Anthony plans on opting out his contract, according to the New York Daily News’ Frank Isola, and that makes him one of the premier names of the 2014 free-agent class.

The Knicks star is a dynamic scorer whose game offers constant contradictions. Anthony’s scoring often looks completely fluid and effortless, almost as if he is toying with defenders. On the flip side, he also has phases where he endlessly pounds the ball, ignores teammates and settles for low-percentage shots.

When it comes to Melo, you take the good with the bad, because the good is just oh so fun to watch.

How do these factors affect a possible defection to Los Angeles?

 

Fitting in L.A.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Lakers are dying to get talent to surround Kobe Bryant, and Anthony is certainly an attractive option in this spot.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina, general manager Mitch Kupchak said in April that the Lakers were rebuilding, but landing an elite player could undoubtedly expedite that process.

Anthony’s scoring and rebounding would certainly give the Purple and Gold a huge boost, and a star to replace Bryant once he rides off into the glamorous L.A. sunset.

Furthermore, Anthony would finally get an opportunity to reproduce his Team USA experience by joining an accomplished player with championship experience in Bryant.

If Kobe is anything close to what he was before his Achilles tear and knee fracture, the Lakers will have a potent duo on their hands.

Anthony will probably cede playmaking duties to Kobe and concentrate on putting points on the board.

This certainly sounds great on the surface, but there are a few complications involved.

Anthony is an impressive scorer, but he isn’t the kind of talent that puts a team into immediate title or even playoff contention, as evidenced by last season’s disaster in New York. That could be worrisome, especially if he is expecting a max contract.

Despite being in the prime of his career, Anthony failed to lead a flawed Knicks roster to the playoffs. This matters going forward, because that’s exactly the type of team the Lakers would have if they hitched their wagon to him.

If Anthony joins Los Angeles, he would more than likely sign for the maximum dollar amount, which will start with an annual figure around $22 million.

The salary cap is projected to be around $63.2 million, which gives the Lakers just about $28.8 million in cap space, per Sham Sports.

By signing Anthony to the max, the Lakers would be left with a mere $6 million to fill out a roster featuring Carmelo, Kobe, Steve Nash and the immortal Robert Sacre.

Granted, the Lakers would also have their mid-level exception ($5.305 million) to work with, but that hardly seems sufficient to build a playoff team in the brutal Western Conference. Oh, by the way, Kupchak knows it.

In March, Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding offered:

To Kupchak, paying maximum dollars to star players who the Lakers are not certain can deliver championship performances would be bad business—and is, in fact, exactly what has happened in New York with the Knicks struggling despite having Carmelo Anthony.

So don’t expect to see Anthony or Chris Bosh—if he opts out of his Miami Heat contract—getting epic offers from the Lakers.

Anthony simply doesn’t move the needle enough.

Remember, the West is littered with stud interior players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard to name a few. Winning in that conference requires a great mix of interior and perimeter play.

Need proof?

That’s exactly what the San Antonio Spurs showed the world in dismantling the Miami Heat during the NBA Finals.

By getting Anthony for the max, the Lakers would be signing up to compete for maybe the eighth spot of the playoffs if all goes well. In related news, the Dallas Mavericks were seeded eighth in the 2014 playoffs after winning 49 games.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In a world where Bryant is an elite 2-guard playing alongside Anthony, I’m not convinced the Lakers could win that amount of contests with a bunch of low-salary players.

And just for good measure, imagine if Bryant’s game declines to the point where he’s good but no longer great. That would be an unmitigated disaster in LakerLand. And by the way, that scenario is definitely in play.

Bryant will be 36 years old by the time next season starts, and it’s possible that his injuries will alter his game beyond recognition. Lest we remember, Kobe missed 76 games last year.

Anthony isn’t a great option at max dollars. However, if the front office can sway him into taking less, the conversation takes a completely different turn.

 

Less is More

Most teams would probably consider adding Anthony at a max contract, but he becomes an incredibly attractive commodity at a discounted rate.

Carmelo has thrived in every All-Star Game and international contest because he’s been surrounded by quality talent in those instances. Most players would probably look great in those scenarios, but Anthony takes it a step further.

He’s a great scorer on the regular, but when surrounded with great players, he’s looked like a cross between Kevin Durant and Bernard King. Especially in international competitions, Anthony has used his brute force to mix it up down in the low-post area, and he’s combined that with great touch from long range.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

As a member of USA Basketball, Carmelo has averaged 15.3 points on 51.9 percent shooting and converted 42.7 percent of his treys. For the sake of comparison, Anthony has made 45.5 percent of his career field-goal attempts in the NBA and 34.5 percent of his three-point shots.

The quality of his NBA looks simply hasn’t been great when compared to other competitions.

There might not be another superstar in the league in bigger need of elite teammates, and the Lakers could be in a position to pull it off, provided the finances are right.

“Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I’d do it,” Anthony said during All-Star weekend, according to the New York Post’s Marc Berman. “I told people all the time, if it takes me taking a paycut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying: ‘Take my money and let’s build something strong over here.’”

One can only wonder if Carmelo will sing this same tune if the Lakers approach him.

In the event Anthony is open to the idea, Los Angeles could very well pull off a massive coup. To be clear, Anthony would have to sacrifice a lot if he’s truly serious about contending.

If Kupchak can convince Anthony to sign a contract averaging $14 million annually, it might put the wheels in motion to bring the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love to L.A.

Over at ESPN.com, Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported in May that Love was interested in joining a few teams, with the Lakers being one of them. He will still be under contract during the 2014-15 campaign, but he has an opt-out clause he can exercise once next season ends. Hence, the Timberwolves could lose him for nothing.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

If Minnesota is convinced Love is a goner, it’s better off trading him this summer. Love has been discouraged with the team after going through nothing but losing seasons since joining the league.

He had this to say during an interview with ESPN’s SportsNation: "No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win. At the end of the day, I've played six years, haven't made the playoffs yet, that burns me and hurts my heart, so I really want to be playing."

Love’s starting salary would be right around $14 million annually. Therefore L.A. would have enough cap room to bring him in via trade.

Minnesota would probably want the Lakers’ No. 7 pick in the 2014 draft coupled with a talented player. It’s unclear whether the Lakers could orchestrate the transaction Minnesota wants. If Love is set on going to L.A., it might not matter what the Timberwolves are willing to accept, considering that he holds the leverage here because of his contract status.

With Anthony in tow, the Lakers could sell Love on the fact that a trio featuring he, Carmelo and Kobe could compete out West for the No. 5 seed or better, even though the remainder of the roster would be shaped with the mid-level exception and a bunch of players on minimum salaries.

This Lakers team wouldn’t be much of a defensive juggernaut, but boy would they put up points in bunches. What’s more, Bryant will presumably retire after the 2015-16 season, which should give the Purple and Gold around $25 million in cap room to go after a marquee player.

Here’s a quick list of the guys that will hit free agency in the 2016 summer:

Notable 2016 NBA Free Agents
Player Contract Type 2015-16 Salary
DeMar DeRozan Player Option $9.5 M
Kevin Durant Unrestricted $20.2 M
Al Horford Unrestricted $12.0 M
Dwight Howard Player Option $22.4 M

BasketballInsiders.com

Getting Anthony at a discount could lead to Love and potentially the acquisition of a third star once Bryant retires. Even if they strike out on an elite-level player, the Lakers could turn their attention to a couple of quality players like Al Horford (who can play center next to Love) and DeMar DeRozan.

 

Purple and Melo

Ron Turenne/Getty Images

The Lakers have to explore the idea of bringing Anthony to Los Angeles. He is a terrific scorer, and a player that could help the franchise get back to the mountaintop, provided he’s well surrounded.

The one caveat: cost.

If it takes a max-level contract to nudge him into playing for the Lakers, Kupchak should pass because Anthony would ultimately eat up all of the franchise’s cap room and complicate its efforts to bring in talent going forward.

Hence, the Lakers have to get into Anthony’s ear and sell him on L.A. and the idea of playing for less. He has the potential to attract others by teaming up with Bryant, and he can help take the Lakers into their next phase post-Kobe.

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