After losing Dwight Howard in 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers may be faced with such a scenario for the second summer in a row. The primary target this time is New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, widely assumed to be the best available free agent in the event LeBron James remains with the Miami Heat.
The Lakers put on a show for Anthony on Thursday—literally. Franchise representatives led by general manager Mitch Kupchak showed the 30-year-old a short film by Matrix producer Joel Silver, hoping the allure of Hollywood would remind him of the potential opportunities awaiting on the West Coast.
The recruitment has been an ongoing process to be sure.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "[Kobe] Bryant and Anthony have been in consistent contact this summer."
ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne reports that, "Bryant has a long history and friendship with Anthony and has been courting him for some time, but he felt it was important to be there when the Lakers made their pitch."
As it turns out, Bryant wound up missing the meeting due to a scheduling change but intended to meet with Anthony separately at some point after he first spoke with representatives from the Knicks.
The Lakers made their pitch after Anthony had already met with contingents from the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks in their respective locations. Los Angeles certainly has some compelling things to offer—the chance to play with Bryant and a franchise with a long-term commitment to contending among them.
It also has money and cap flexibility.
Lakers made it clear to Melo today they'd offer the maximum, 4-yr, $97mil contract they can, if he chose them.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 4, 2014
All of those things could go a long way in persuading Anthony that a change of scenery is in order.
So could the possibility of teaming him with both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne report:
While Anthony was told that a max offer would be his for the taking if he wanted it, the Lakers also discussed scenarios in which he and James could both come to the Lakers and how much money each would earn in doing so, a league source said.
Then again, there are reasons to believe the Syracuse product will remain right where he is.
According to ESPN.com's Chris Broussard and Ian Begley, the Knicks "have always told Anthony that they would give him the max contract and reiterated that in their Thursday meeting, although the offer was verbal, not formal, a source said."
That's important, because New York—per league rules—can offer more money (and years) than any other team, including Los Angeles.
"New York can offer Anthony the most money of any of his suitors, a maximum contract worth $129 million over five seasons," report Broussard and Begley. "Other suitors can offer Anthony a max contract worth $96 million over four years."
The money is also reportedly a priority for Anthony.
If true, the Lakers could come up empty despite their best efforts. There's only so much the organization can do in the face of a collective bargaining agreement that gives free agents an incentive to remain with their incumbent teams.
And there's only so much it can do when Phil Jackson is beckoning from the other coast.
But such a loss wouldn't be the end of the world for the Lakers. This franchise will have plenty of opportunities to improve in the not-too-distant future, especially with stars like Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo scheduled to become free agents in 2015.
Some of those opportunities could come even sooner.
While LAL has trekked to CLE for a chance to pitch LeBron's agent, Rich Paul, they are unsure if/when they will get to see James himself— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 4, 2014
Lakers stealth: They said they didn't have meeting set up with LeBron James' agent but Kupchak + Lakers biz VP Tim Harris are in Cleveland.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) July 4, 2014
Kupchak and Harris flew to Cleveland on a private jet immediately after meeting with Carmelo in Los Angeles this afternoon.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) July 4, 2014
Though James' intentions have remained unclear thus far, there's little doubt he'd actually be a better fit in L.A. than Anthony. In addition to being the best all-around player on the planet, James is a much better facilitator and defender than Anthony. Those are virtues that are in high demand in Los Angeles, especially after a season in which playmaker-in-chief Steve Nash was injured most of the time, a season in which the team's absentee defense was an absolute liability.
It may be a pipe dream, but it's the kind of scenario that would render Anthony an afterthought should it come to fruition.
More realistic outcomes are no reason for despair, however.
Los Angeles could always target other help on the wing, perhaps in the form of second-tier free agents like the veteran Luol Deng or the not-so-mature Lance Stephenson. Neither option is perfect, but either one could do a world of good for the right price.
Whether it's this summer or next, Kupchak will find targets who fit.
Perhaps targets who fit better than Anthony.
Elite as Anthony may be, there's a pretty good argument to be made that he's not a perfect addition for the Lakers. Even if he and Bryant are friends off the court, it's hard to see how they'd mesh effectively on the court.
Both stars like to dominate the ball, scoring in isolation scenarios or from the post. Both are known for taking—and expecting—plenty of shots. While there may be enough of those shots to go around between the two of them, it's hard to see how the rest of the team would get involved. In a day and age when ball movement reigns supreme, two ball-stoppers just doesn't make much sense.
Less can indeed be more, even when it comes to star power.
Anthony probably knows it, too.
USA Today's Sam Amick reports that the Lakers may not be one of his finalists.
One front office executive whose team is among the five in the running for Anthony (Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Lakers) is currently of the belief Anthony will choose between the Knicks, Bulls or Rockets.
Teams like to get what they want, but the Lakers should dig deep when asking themselves if they really want Anthony. He's a name and face around which to build, but that doesn't mean he's the right name and face.
Plan B just might be just what the Los Angeles Lakers need.