With a legacy of winning, a superstar running mate who's already secured a Hall of Fame spot and a market that celebrates stars like few others, the Los Angeles Lakers have plenty to offer free-agent scoring machine Carmelo Anthony.
L.A.'s pursuit of the seven-time All-Star is more than just a purple-and-gold-stained pipe dream. If that was the case, Anthony would have no reason to hold court with the Lakers brass like he will Thursday, per ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:
The Lakers registered interest in Carmelo Anthony tonight and will be meeting with him on Thursday, source tells ESPN— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 1, 2014
Still, from the outside looking in, they come off as long shots.
After all, the Knicks can give him more money and a bigger market to build his brand. The Chicago Bulls might have the deepest roster of any Anthony suitor. The Houston Rockets pack the meanest one-two punch with James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Dallas Mavericks have the makings of a contender with a spot saved for Anthony at the top of the totem pole.
The Lakers? They have six players who figure to be a part of next season's rotation: two are old (Kobe Bryant, 35, Steve Nash, 40), two are unproven (rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson) and two are forgettable (Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall). The coaching seat vacated by Mike D'Antoni after the season remains unoccupied.
In terms of basketball reasons, the Lakers don't have a lot of good ones to offer. Not as many as Anthony's other suitors, at least.
Yet, rarely are these decisions made strictly for basketball reasons. There are business, family and social factors to weigh, each of which could pull Anthony a different direction.
The prospect of winning matters, but perhaps not as much as he's said it does, per Ian Begley of ESPN New York. If he wanted the fastest, clearest path to the title, his recruiting tour would have started and stopped in Chicago.
It didn't. He's still out testing the market, and that's what makes the Lakers such a serious threat to the competition.
They can massage a superstar's ego as well as anyone, whether that's wowing with a history lesson or tantalizing with a tale of the Hollywood lifestyle. The Lakers know how to attract talent, how to win with that talent and how to build that talent's brand.
"They were built by superstars and they know how to treat them," Shelburne wrote.
"That's the mission statement. This is Hollywood, come get the star treatment."
Anthony and his wife, La La, know the market's star treatment well. The pair already own a home in Los Angeles and recently attended the Hollywood premiere of La La's new movie, Think Like a Man Too.
Market size alone won't lure Anthony to L.A., of course. Not when Anthony is currently calling the league's biggest one home.
The Lakers will need more, and they have more. They have both a dominant past and a flexible future to sell, which could be enough for Anthony to overlook a potentially turbulent present, as ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin explained:
The Lakers' pitch would sound something like this: come to L.A. and be next in line to be the star of the league's foremost glamour franchise. Things might look bleak right now, Melo, but not only do we have the ability to sign you (and your buddy LeBron James too, if The King is interested) right now, but we also have the flexibility moving forward to make a run at some of the premier guys around the league who will become free agents in the coming years.
Even the present could be better than it looks now.
Yes, the Lakers are coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history.
Remember, though, that 27-win team got just six games out of Bryant. It's hard to say how much he could have added to the win column, but he certainly would have helped. In the 78 games he played during the 2012-13 campaign, he put up 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds.
Remember, also, that the team's best player after Bryant, Pau Gasol, struggled to blend his interior gifts with the perimeter-friendly style of D'Antoni. Gasol might not move as well as he used to, but he still found his way to 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists this past season.
That Lakers team didn't have Julius Randle, either. The high-motor power forward out of Kentucky arrived as the franchise's first lottery pick since 2005 and highest selection (seventh overall) since the Lakers grabbed James Worthy with the top pick in 1982. The 19-year-old isn't close to scratching his ceiling, but he'll bring an NBA-ready set of bruising, low-post skills to the hardwood.
The cupboard is light, but it isn't barren.
The Lakers can offer Anthony the chance to suit up alongside his close friend Bryant, then possibly surround those two with Randle and Gasol. The skilled Spaniard is an unrestricted free agent, but he's said to be keeping a close eye on L.A.'s pursuit of Anthony.
"If the Lakers get Carmelo, Pau will stay," a source told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
Other teams might have stronger basketball pitches to make, but the Lakers do have an on-court product to sell. It isn't the deepest core by any stretch, but it's one that could really enjoy sharing the floor together, as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding explained:
A core of Bryant, Anthony, Gasol and Randle—going against the quickened NBA grain with a post-up-heavy style and an emphasis on defensive detail by expected coach Byron Scott—would comprise 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.
There have been questions as to whether an Anthony-Bryant pairing could survive. At their essence, both are isolation wing scorers, better at calling their own numbers than setting up teammates.
There is reason to believe, however, they could make it work.
They have great mutual respect for each other, a friendship strengthened during years of playing with Team USA together. The pair spoke earlier this offseason while both were vacationing in Europe, per ESPN's Chris Broussard, and Bryant cut his trip short to get back for the Lakers' recruiting pitch Thursday, according to Shelburne.
Is their bond strong enough to help them coexist on the court?
"I think it would be fine," Wesley Johnson said, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. "Everybody says it would be difficult for them to play together. But if they're on the same team, they would make it work. They're both pros and know how to play basketball."
If they could figure out how to play together, Bryant and Anthony would give defenses fits.
Both have averaged more than 25 points a night for their careers, and both have career field-goal percentages above 45. They can play in the low post, bury shots from deep and finish drives to the basket. They're also capable passers (combined 7.9 career assists per game), although that skill has been masked by the fact that both have been their team's best scoring option.
If sharing the rock wouldn't be a problem, then sharing the spotlight shouldn't be one, either.
Bryant won't just give his alpha dog status away, but he's been looking for someone to whom he can hand over the franchise. He thought former Laker Dwight Howard was going to be that guy.
"Look, I'm going to play two, maybe three more years … then the team is his," Bryant said after the Lakers acquired Howard in 2012, via Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. "I'm excited for the Laker franchise. Now they have a player that can carry the franchise well after I'm gone."
Which team will Carmelo Anthony sign with this offseason?
Howard, of course, didn't wait for that day to come. Anthony, though, could be more willing to carry the torch with Bryant, a task made easier by the personal relationship they already share.
Once Bryant's ready to walk away, then Anthony will have the keys of the one the most storied, successful franchises in the NBA. Well, that or he'd have joint ownership of them along with any top-tier players the Lakers could add in the coming seasons.
So, is it probable that Anthony comes to L.A.? The smart money still points to a return to the Big Apple.
However, he reportedly hasn't committed to anything yet.
"He still has got an open mind," a source told Sean Deveney of Sporting News. "The Knicks have always been on the list, that is where his home is, that hasn't changed. But there have not been any decisions made."
The race is still on, and the Lakers could be a lot closer to the front of the pack than most seem to think. They aren't short on compelling sales pitches, it just depends on what Anthony wants to hear.