While it appeared as if the Lakers would pump the brakes on any free-agent aspirations this summer, they're reportedly gearing up for quite the offseason. And though they've positioned themselves to make a run at both Anthony and LeBron James, ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin says there is a Plan B in place:
In fact, should it appear that James and Anthony are not pursuing a mutual destination as a package deal -- especially with Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh opting out of their deals with the Miami Heat -- the Lakers believe that having Gasol back on the team could be vital in their solo pursuit of Anthony.
This represents quite the shift in mentality. Gasol's relationship with the Lakers was considered irreparable weeks ago, and Anthony's arrival was deemed unnecessary and potentially destructive if he wasn't accompanied by James.
Now the Lakers apparently want both.
Possible? The jury is still out.
First Thing's First
If the Lakers plan on using Gasol as an additional selling point for Anthony, they have to, you know, keep him first.
Mike D'Antoni's departure makes them a more appealing landing spot for the 7-foot Spaniard, who was often marginalized within the coach's floor-space-heavy system. Magic Mike and Gasol were like two peas in a pod—if both peas had arms that were brandishing a pair of flintlocks. Point being, they weren't compatible.
Coaching is only part of it, though. Gasol has spent nearly seven years with the Lakers and would love to stay, but he also wants to win.
"My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations," he wrote on his personal website in February, per McMenamin. "It couldn't be any other way. I want to be in a team with a real chance of winning a ring and where I can help to compete for it."
After winning 27 games and landing in the draft lottery for the first time since 2005, the Lakers don't appear to be that team. Their roster is, at the moment, devoid of depth and built around the soon-to-be 36-year-old Bryant and 40-year-old Steve Nash. Such a core, even with Gasol, doesn't scream "Championship!" It howls "Lottery! Again!"
The Lakers will have to convince Gasol they're worth playing for, especially since he's due to make significantly less than the $19.3 million he earned last season. They can't sell him on Anthony either. They can sell him on the idea of playing with Anthony and Bryant, but his contract needs to be ironed out first for them to figure out how much Anthony can be paid.
Any agreement Gasol makes to return will be a leap of faith, a sign of trust. He'll have to believe the team that has dangled him in countless trade negotiations since 2011 is on the cusp of becoming an instant contender.
Enormous holes abound there. Selling Gasol on hypotheticals and retroactive apologies won't be enough. The Lakers must play to his love for Bryant instead:
Friendship won't swing Gasol's decision alone, but it's one helluva start. And, truth be told, re-signing him is the easiest part of this entire undertaking.
Sources provided ESPN.com's Chris Broussard with pertinent intel regarding Anthony's free-agency jaunt, not one bit of which bodes well for the Lakers:
Carmelo Anthony has decided to visit the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls once teams are allowed to meet with free agents on July 1, according to league sources.
The meetings have not been set up because the teams are not yet allowed to contact free agents. But Anthony has decided he will give those three teams a chance to recruit him when they are able to. Anthony's camp informed the Knicks of his decision to visit the three teams.
Notice anything here? Ah, yes: The Lakers aren't on Anthony's list of meetings. Now isn't that awkward?
General manager Mitch Kupchak and his band of front-office minions do a great job keeping things under wraps—a better job than perhaps every other team—so maybe they have a covert meeting planned with Anthony that will take place during a Gondola ride in Italy or over lunch on Neptune.
Or maybe the Lakers don't top his list of championship-ready suitors, in which case—much like their pursuit of Gasol—they'll be forced to depend on Bryant's powers of persuasion. Per ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
Carmelo Anthony is planning to meet with the Chicago Bulls in Chicago on the opening day of free agency after the NBA's offseason market officially opens Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., according to sources familiar with Anthony's plans.
Sources told ESPN.com that Anthony is in the process of arranging a trip to Chicago to meet with the Bulls, then intends to travel to Texas for Wednesday meetings with both the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks. ...
Anthony, who maintains an offseason home in Los Angeles, is also expected to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers face-to-face next week.
Notice anything here? The Lakers seem to be a throw-in. According to Broussard, they weren't even on Anthony's original list. They were—and still are—relying on Bryant's ability to woo.
Getting face time with Anthony shouldn't be difficult if it's not on the books already. Los Angeles is Los Angeles. The lights are bright, the beaches are home to early morning yoga classes and the Anthonys can finally buy that purple-and-gold-tinged minivan without looking suspicious.
Upon securing a sit-down with Melo, the Lakers are tasked with showing him the money before anything else. Yes, winning matters, but so does being able to swim in a pool of Benjamins while sporting board shorts made of money and snorkeling gear fashioned from low-density gold.
Talk of a pay cut has dominated Anthony's free agency. It's been a little odd, actually. Anthony didn't help himself by suggesting he'd take less to win last season, yet it's basically assumed he may not even have a choice.
Teams like the Rockets and Bulls don't appear inclined to gut their rosters of depth and assets if it means signing him. Not even the New York Knicks, his incumbent team, seem ready to offer him a max deal.
Is there another top-10 superstar who would be so readily expected to accept less when certain teams—like the Knicks, Rockets and Bulls—have the means to offer or create enough wiggle room to offer a max deal? (Seriously, asking for a friend here.)
Peculiar interest notwithstanding, Anthony may not be open to a substantial pay cut anyway. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune says "speculation exists throughout the league that Anthony, despite publicly saying he would take a pay cut to play for a winner, still desires a maximum or near-maximum offer."
To give Anthony the max, the Lakers would have to come up with roughly $22.4 million in spending power, according to Larry Coon, author of the CBA FAQ. As yours truly calculated in another piece, the Lakers can get $22-plus million below the projected $63.2 million salary cap after letting Kent Bazemore explore unrestricted free agency if they retain only Bryant, Julius Randle, second-round pick Jordan Clarkson, Robert Sacre and Nash.
That $22 million is more than enough to get the ball rolling with Anthony—except this was assuming they would renounce the rights to Gasol. If they want to keep Gasol, they have to re-sign him to a deeply discounted deal.
Every penny they give him subtracts from their offer to Melo. If he gets $5 million, the Lakers can only give Anthony somewhere around $17 million to start, and so on and so forth.
The Lakers can increase their flexibility by using Randle as a buffer to dump Steve Nash's contract. Parting ways with those two while receiving nothing in return creates nearly $12 million in cap space—$12.6 million, minus two minimum cap holds.
Keeping Randle would be ideal. McMenamin says the Lakers see him as someone who can coexist alongside Gasol, and he's not wrong. Randle is a better passer than he gets credit for, and his bruising, low-post-oriented style of play complements the bouncy-haired Gasol's nicely.
Still, if the Lakers want to open max room for Anthony and also want to pay Gasol a salary that doesn't have him taking a 75 percent pay cut, Nash needs to go. And for Nash to go, Randle needs to go.
Once the Lakers are done maneuvering, they need to hope all their posturing is enough.
Too Many Buck$, Not Enough Bang
All told, the Lakers could wind up with Anthony, Bryant, Gasol and a bunch of fillers. Is that enough to lure in Anthony? Is that enough to contend in the powerfully preeminent Western Conference?
Both questions are one and the same.
Anthony isn't leaving New York unless he has a chance to win. His friendship with Bryant only does so much for the Lakers. After figuring out the dollars and cents, the rest comes down to winning. If the Lakers cannot win with those three stars, Anthony isn't coming.
So Anthony isn't coming.
Playing these three luminaries together would not only be a defensive nightmare, but as I've stated time and again, Bryant's and Anthony's skills overlap far too much for them to be anything more than a potentially OK fit. Two ball-dominant scorers without a star facilitator to balance touches and juggle egos is a recipe for disaster.
Should the Lakers scrub their roster of depth and assets for the sake of established talents, they must do so while finding appropriate sidekicks for Bryant.
Those targets may include Gasol; they may not. It may even demand that the Lakers set their sights lower this summer or wait until next year, as NBC Sports' Dan Feldman explained:
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.
Whatever it entails, it most certainly doesn't behoove them to mortgage their present and future on a Kobe-Pau-Melo troika that is both aging and confusing. Rolling the dice here wouldn't be money well spent or energy properly focused.
"We're prepared," Kupchak said, via McMenamin. "If any of those players do want to make a move, we're prepared. And if we get word, when we're allowed to get word, we will go all out."
If the Lakers can successfully offer Anthony the chance to play with James and Bryant, the feeling may be mutual.
But if Gasol and Bryant are all the Lakers have, and if Anthony actually wants to win, he'll give them nothing more than a cursory glance before sauntering off to New York or Houston or Chicago or Miami.
*Salary information via ShamSports.