Keeping Kobe Bryant happy isn't a part-time job.
Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak would never admit it, but his aggressive pursuit of Carmelo Anthony presumably has more to do with satisfying Bryant than building a viable long-term enterprise.
Why the cynicism?
Let's start with L.A.'s obvious desperation. Or isn't that what you call offering a maximum-salary contract to a guy who's 30 years old and probably doesn't really fit with your operation?
Los Angeles doesn't need Anthony's services, but it wants them anyway. The organization is throwing its hard-earned cap flexibility to the wind in a bid to land the New York Knicks' star forward.
Can you blame these Lakers?
But you can also understand where they're coming from.
The truth is that Anthony would be a terrible fit. He and Bryant both prefer to dominate the ball, working from isolation schemes or the post and operating with minimal ball movement. That might be acceptable from time to time, but it's a dangerous standard-operating procedure, prone to allowing defenders to zero in on predictable threats and leaving non-factors alone.
The other truth is that Los Angeles would probably be better served by saving its cap room for 2015, when better fits such as Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo will come up for grabs.
Back in March, that seemed to be the plan, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.
That plan made sense.
You can imagine Love stretching the floor for Los Angeles, giving Bryant plenty of room to operate. You can imagine Rondo running the offense. Aldridge or Gasol would give the club its best interior presence since the other Gasol (Pau) and Andrew Bynum patrolled the interior.
The Carmelo plan makes less sense.
There just aren't enough basketballs to go around to keep both Bryant and Anthony happy. They both thrive on touches, and they both need teams to themselves.
And yet, keeping Bryant happy would seemingly be the only reason for such an aggressive pursuit of Anthony.
Paradoxical, isn't it?
It's a paradox that requires you to believe that even Bryant doesn't really know what's in his best interest. And to some degree, it also requires you to believe that he doesn't completely care about what's best for the Lakers.
That notion may be hard to stomach, but winners like Bryant aren't fond of losing seasons. Perhaps he's willing to give Anthony a chance on account of uncertainty about the summer of 2015. Perhaps he's simply intent on making sure next season turns out better than the last.
Recall what Bryant said in March.
"This organization is just not going to go [down]," Bryant said, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "It's not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it's kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now."
In April, Kupchak sounded a more subdued tone.
In an interview with USA Today's Sam Amick, the Lakers GM said, "I'm confident that over time, that we're going to be able to assemble a team that's competitive, fun to watch."
That doesn't quite square with Bryant's expectations of immediate improvement. Even Kupchak knows that.
According to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, he admitted in April that, "[Bryant's] not the most patient person in the world. And that's never going to change."
So it would seem Bryant's impatience has driven the organization's latest push for Anthony. How else do you explain it?
Chances are Anthony won't be a premium draw for free agents two or three years down the line (when he's 32 or 33). Chances are Anthony isn't the complementary piece Bryant needs—in the short or long term, either way. Also, there has not been any indication throughout Anthony's high-scoring career that he's actually a legitimate winner.
This is a knee-jerk talent grab, pure and simple.
And it's an ill-advised one at that.
The Lakers would be fortunate if Anthony opts to go elsewhere. They'd do well to preserve their cap space for one or two pieces that would actually feed off of Bryant. This is one of those instances in which there's something to be said for delayed gratification—even if that doesn't sit well with Bryant.
Another lost season would hurt, especially with Los Angeles' top-five protected 2015 first-round pick traded to the Phoenix Suns. But the pain would be temporary, potentially alleviated in a big way by another run at free agency.
And there's nothing to say next season has to be a lost one just because Anthony isn't around. There are some solid pieces available on the free-agent market—point guards such as restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas and wing players such as Luol Deng.
Though smaller acquisitions by any metric (including financial ones), there are compelling arguments to be made that quieter deals could help the Lakers in a big way.
It's not always the biggest names that yield the best results. Just ask the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs and their roster of underpaid—yet extremely effective—talent.
The luster of another superstar addition is tempting, but it should be resisted—at least for now.
Kobe's impatience aside, Los Angeles will learn that less is sometimes more.
Hopefully, that lesson won't be too painful.
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