Lakers' Free-Agent Pitch to Carmelo Anthony Has Makings of a Feel-Good Story

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Lakers' Free-Agent Pitch to Carmelo Anthony Has Makings of a Feel-Good Story
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LOS ANGELES — The simple sales pitch is ready, and if Carmelo Anthony can be made to feel like Los Angeles is meant to be his home Thursday, the Lakers might really shock the world.   

Even though they are overwhelming underdogs in this free-agent hunt, the Lakers actually are not at all that lacking in confidence that they can get Anthony to choose them over the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.

And it sure would feel awfully good to be chosen over the other massive media markets and Dwight Howard's Texas folks, eradicating that jilted feeling Howard dealt the "Stay"-campaigning Lakers just last year.

It would change the Lakers' plans in a snap, with club management ready to shift gears to offer long-term dollars for others in pursuit of winning right now. And the Lakers would be back on the map in the critical sports category of relevance, which might not equate to official contender status but means an awful lot in the real world.

What is wholly unresolved is whether it would work basketball-wise for Anthony to choose the Lakers. It's tantalizing for Lakers fans to roll with the assumption that he and Kobe Bryant, despite the similarities in their games and the character soft spots Anthony has revealed, can make the team a championship contender again overnight.

It's a problem that the Lakers hope they'll have to solve, because it's clearly not stopping them from going all out to tell Anthony that he, unlike Howard, is worthy of being a Laker. And Bryant would be proud to have a friend to call his partner and successor to the purple and gold throne.

Lakers officials spent Wednesday mapping out their final approach for the Thursday meeting with Anthony in the city that he already knows he and wife La La love. The Lakers will try to explain how it fits him better than New York, but it won't be some Hollywood production.

The Lakers' approach will be low-key compared to what Anthony saw in Chicago on Tuesday and Houston on Wednesday. Their philosophy is that they want to be chosen on honest merits, as a franchise that simply takes care of its superstars and knows how to win like no one else in sports.

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Kobe Bryant has talked often over the past few seasons about the close bond he has with Carmelo Anthony, who will visit the Lakers on Thursday as a free agent.

The Lakers also believe that Anthony's unwavering respect for Bryant makes this a very logical match, especially now that former coach Mike D'Antoni is out of the way for both. Bryant has been known to overstate his closeness with some players, but his bond with Anthony is legit. Bryant even called Anthony one night in the locker room after watching on TV as Anthony was ejected from a game.

In the same sense that the team exhibits a sense of renewal with Kobe-idolizing Julius Randle coming in to work under Bryant, there exists a spiritually right feeling about Anthony coming to costar with Bryant, who again is facing the calls that he's not the sort of teammate others want.

The Lakers are still looking to expunge the foul air that permeated their locker room in the 2012-13 season of Bryant and Howard. Last season was still frustrating in fundamental ways, and Bryant's disinterest in investing in the team down the stretch hardly made Steve Nash feel as high on Bryant as when the two were united in their disrespect for Howard the season before.

Bryant's vision is to bring Pau Gasol back if Anthony comes, which is probably the only scenario in which it makes any sense for Gasol to return when he has suitors aplenty and is looking to meld the goals of long-term dollars and immediate victories.

A core of Bryant, Anthony, Gasol and Randlegoing against the quickened NBA grain with a post-up-heavy style and an emphasis on defensive detail by expected coach Byron Scottwould constitute perhaps the most Bryant-friendly team in Kobe's career. A unit of guys who truly want to be with Bryant—and the Lakers—might provide the type of chemistry that could produce wins.

But the Lakers' pursuit of Anthony boils down to the reality that he is, unquestionably, a superstar.

And there is value to star power, even if it's unclear how Anthony is going to make the Lakers champions again.

It's a reasonable position to take that the Lakers would actually be better off if Anthony shuns them.

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After cheering for Kobe Bryant as a teenager, Julius Randle will be expected to carry the Lakers into an era beyond Bryant's playing career.

They might be able to sink their free-agent money into someone younger who can grow into a championship player. Maybe the athletic Lance Stephenson, 23, comes to the Lakers for far-beyond-market annual wages with the Lakers offering him a high profile and a reminder that he'll have future seasons of long-term cash if he delivers.

If Anthony passes on them, the Lakers would also be able to save their max salary for someone less egocentric than him a year from now, someone who better fits Jerry Buss' old vision of a star with just the right character.

Anthony is already 30 but still needs a tutorial on how to win, and that's what the incomparable Phil Jackson is offering in New York, aside from the potential for five years and $129 million compared to the Lakers' max offer of four years and $96 million.

Going to the hard-charging, well-coached Bulls in the low-rent Eastern Conference would offer a far more direct route to the NBA Finals, and Anthony should know by now that he needs a lot of help to succeed.

He just had one of the best statistical seasons of his career, yet the Knicks went 37-45. There is a link missing for this guy.

And the Lakers believe that their support network offers a variety of links Anthony can really use.

As Randle spoke Monday at his introductory press conference about trusting this winning organization and then segued into how he has learned the importance of being surrounded by the right people to help him, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sat next to him, nodding along to all of it.

Given his flaws, Anthony might not look like the guy to take the Lakers back to greatness.

But if what they are offering resonates so deeply with him that he takes it? Maybe he really is.

 

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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