Who wants to play with Kobe Bryant?
Perhaps that is the million(s) dollar question at the moment for the Los Angeles Lakers. In an era where seemingly every team clears enough cap space to pursue the big names, Mitch Kupchak's franchise needs more than dollars and name recognition to lure players his way.
There is a certain stigma around the Lakers at the moment that is hard to push aside. In a full-blown rebuild, the front office clearly wants to rebound in a big way through free agency, which might not work if players decide the new little brother in Los Angeles does not present a salvageable situation.
As has been the case each day for the past month, the rumblings around the franchise are fresh and pause-worthy. Here is the latest.
Pau Gasol and Carmelo Anthony May be a Packaged Deal
Believe it or not, it is Pau Gasol who might just singlehandedly hold the power in the large chunk of the league's future landscape.
Gasol has always seemed open to a re-up with the Lakers, the franchise he has called home since 2007. But his market is hot, since at going on 34 years of age he has yet to see a significant drop in production on the offensive side of the court:
There have been rumblings that Carmelo Anthony has been on the recruiting trail to bring Gasol to the New York Knicks to reunite with Phil Jackson, which makes a ton of sense. Well, except in the financial department, as Gasol—who raked in $19 million last year, per Spotrac—would have to take a significant pay cut to join the rebuild in the Big Apple.
But the other side to this coin is both predictable and intriguing. As ESPN's Ramona Shelburne notes, several contenders have made a play for Gasol, but word on the street is he'd be back in Los Angeles if Anthony accompanied him:
ESPN reported Wednesday night that the Oklahoma City Thunder duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made a strong case to Gasol, with the Thunder emerging as a surprising front-runner despite their financial limitations. The Chicago Bulls are scheduled to meet with Gasol on Thursday in Los Angeles.
However, the Lakers can pay Gasol more than any other team, and his fondness for the city and playing with Bryant should not be discounted. If the team can add to its roster with Anthony, sources said, Gasol would be far more inclined to re-sign with the Lakers.
The thought of Bryant and Anthony on the same team, both of the shot-happy style, is difficult to digest, but it makes sense Gasol would want to stick around in familiar territory with familiar faces as his career winds down.
Anthony makes the Lakers a contender, which seems to be the icing on the cake for the Spaniard.
Lakers Have Backup Options
Of course, much of the discussion around the Lakers at this point centers on how the front office would behave if it fails in its pursuit of Anthony.
Luckily for Kupchak and Co., the talent pool on the market this year is deep.
According to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News, there are several names on the team's radar:
Lakers like Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza, Chandler Parsons. Lakers won't offer them more than 1-2 year deals, though— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) July 1, 2014
There is one problem though, in that the Lakers' apparent unwillingness to dish out lengthy contracts—presumably in order to be major players on the market again next offseason—will hurt them with most of these names.
Take Chandler Parsons for example. At 25 years old coming off a season in which he posted averages of 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game, he's going to want what will likely turn out to be a max contract.
Knowing this, it's interesting the Lakers have him on the list, especially with so many others teams in the hunt, as noted by ESPN's Jeff Goodman:
Lakers have expressed interest in Chandler Parsons, source told ESPN. Others include Dallas and Chicago. Phoenix also interested.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 1, 2014
Plus, one Dwight Howard, who knows a thing or two about the Lakers and free agency, does not seem too worried about Parsons' trip to the market, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
Interesting listening to Dwight after the Melo lunch talk about Parsons as certain to be back. "I don't think it's a question mark."— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 2, 2014
Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza—who are both 29 years old—seem like much safer bets. A short contract for either player allows them to make significant cash in the interim, followed by another shot at cashing in on a major deal once they hit free agency again, relatively in their prime years.
While Deng floundered away in Cleveland for a portion of last season, his resume as one of the better 2-way players thanks to his suffocating defense makes him an attractive option. But it is Ariza who appears more productive at this stage of his career:
It also helps that Ariza is more than familiar with the franchise, having played a critical role in the team's title run in 2009.
Funnily enough, all of the names Medina mentions are merely backup options if Anthony chooses to go elsewhere, which quite indeed means Kupchak and his front office are playing with fire.
Not only does Gasol seem attached to the idea of a return only if Anthony is on board, others teams may not be so inclined to wait on scooping up players such as Ariza before Anthony makes his decision.
It's a lose-lose situation for the Lakers, a team fittingly seeming intent to gamble away next season over the course of the next few weeks.