Because it's the Lakers. Those four words can be used to explain nearly everything that goes against common logic. After decades of excellence, so much faith has been engendered in this organization that you could tell me they're playing next season on Mars and I'd nod along.
Because it's the Lakers. This is the organization that has missed the playoffs just six times in its history and only once in back-to-back seasons. This is the organization that has pilfered multiple once-in-a-generation big men. The Lakers are the Lakers because they always know when to strike—and seemingly have a lucky horseshoe lodged up their (expletive) helping them to know when to act.
No organization in professional sports has ever been better run in the history of professional sports.
So when you hear the Lakers are suddenly serious contenders for Carmelo Anthony, the ears tend to perk up a bit. Such a claim was made by multiple reporters Saturday evening, first by Grantland's Bill Simmons before a cascade of confirmations came in from all angles.
The Lakers were largely expected to be little more than a courtesy meeting. Most pegged the Anthony chase as a two-horse race between the Bulls and Knicks, each of whom could give the seven-time All-Star things Los Angeles couldn't.
That the Lakers are trending upward in hierarchy as Anthony nears his decision—which is expected in the next couple of days—has to be nerve-wracking for front offices in Chicago and New York.
This is a franchise built on pulling off coups no one thought possible. Is Anthony soon to be the latest on a list the size of your average e-book?
While the summer of 2010 proved that anything is possible in the NBA, Anthony signing with the Lakers would take a major leap of faith and require an almost pathological desire to play in Los Angeles.
The Lakers lag behind Chicago and New York in the two most important areas for any free agent: money and winning. Anthony's decision has always come down to a dilemma of competing for an NBA championship and staying in a city where he's happy.
The Bulls with Anthony and a healthy Derrick Rose become instant NBA title contenders—and possibly the favorite.
They have every ingredient necessary to challenge Miami and San Antonio. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are arguably the best defensive frontcourt in basketball. Jimmy Butler, 24, and Nikola Mirotic, 23, give the Bulls two young players who should improve over the life of Anthony's deal. Tom Thibodeau is among the league's best coaches and is someone who can hide Anthony's defensive deficiencies.
There is not a better basketball fit on the planet.
The Lakers by contrast are at the rock bottom of what could be a frustrating rebuild. Kobe Bryant turns 36 in August and is coming off two debilitating leg injuries in the last 15 months. If playing with a healthy 36-year-old Dirk Nowitzki has turned off suitors who aren't sure about how much prime he has left, then what does Bryant have to offer?
The only other Lakers under contract are Robert Sacre, Julius Randle, Kendall Marshall and what's left of Steve Nash.
Even if the Lakers are able to coax Pau Gasol into staying—which is less likely by the day—then Anthony's best teammates are all 34 or older. Randle is among the most NBA-ready rookies in this year's class, but he's also a rookie. Sacre and Marshall are good guys and usable rotation players, yet they could both be out of the league tomorrow without all that much notice.
Going to the Lakers means going to the Western Conference. General manager Mitch Kupchak would have to work some real magic with role players for that core to be a playoff team. That also requires faith in Bryant's health, which is an awfully big leap at this juncture.
Kobe in his 2012-13 form offers Anthony a chance to have an Option 1a, Option 1b situation. But does anyone have faith that Bryant can reach that level again outside the greater Los Angeles area?
The Lakers do have one thing Chicago does not, and that is an NBA ATM ready to print off a fat maximum contract to Mr. Anthony. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard reported that the Lakers offered Anthony a four-year, $97 million deal in their meeting. That's the maximum allowable by the league's collective bargaining agreement and a very nice chunk of change.
One thing it is not? The maximum amount of guaranteed money Anthony can get on the free-agent market.
Despite New York's Phil Jackson hemming and hawing about a possible pay cut, the Knicks offered Anthony a five-year, $129 million deal last week, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. That is (breaks out scientific calculator) $32 million more than the Lakers' offer. (Note: If my math is wrong, it is ALL the calculator's fault.)
Contrary to what many are saying, though, Anthony would not necessarily be leaving $32 million on the table if he leaves New York. It's not as if he's going to disappear from the Earth after the 2017-18 season. A 34-year-old Anthony could reasonably expect $10-15 million a year on his next deal, given his historical comparisons and the league's rocketing salary cap.
In all likelihood, Anthony would leave $15 or so million on the table to become a Laker.
Before we continue, an aside: That is FIFTEEN MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS. Assessing the finances of others is a great fan tradition, and an easy justification here is that Anthony is "already rich." I mean, what is $15 million to a guy who has hundreds in the bank, right? I'll tell you what it is: It is FIFTEEN MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS.
OK, back to reality.
Working under an assumption that Carmelo has decided he'll only sign a max deal, it's hard to justify his leaving that money on the table. The Knicks and Lakers are both at least a year away from serious contention. While the Lakers might have enough money to make a run at a max contract next summer, the Knicks certainly do.
Contracts for Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and many others come off the books after 2014-15. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jose Calderon are the only players guaranteed to be taking up cap space. J.R. Smith has a player option he's likely to exercise, and I'd imagine Cleanthony Early and Shane Larkin will still be around.
Depending on how Anthony's contract is structured and how much the cap moves, the Knicks will have maximum room and possibly enough to sign another very good player.
|Carmelo Anthony||$24.7 million (estimate)|
|Jose Calderon||$7.4 million|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||$1.3 million (team option)|
|J.R. Smith||$6.4 million (player option)|
|Shane Larkin||1.7 million (team option)|
|Cleanthony Early||$900,000 (estimate)|
|Thanasis Antetokounmpo||$600,000 (estimate)|
Sham Sports / Personal Estimates
The Lakers have $25 million earmarked for Bryant. Between Kobe and Carmelo, their 2015-16 cap holds would be near $50 million. They might have enough to make a run at Kevin Love that summer, but their flexibility elsewhere is nonexistent. That Bryant contract might be the best single argument against Anthony leaving New York.
The Lakers don't have a hook. They can't offer as much money as New York. They can't offer the instant title contention of Chicago. Even Houston would be a better option from a competitiveness standpoint, though the Rockets seem an unlikely destination.
Factor in Anthony's wife, entertainer La La Anthony, setting up an entire career for herself in New York over the last few years, and the threads of a Lakers marriage start to show.
Again, it's not impossible. Because it's the Lakers. They've pulled off crazier heists in the past.
But we've seen the past couple seasons that the Lakers brand no longer means what it used to. Anthony's free-agency decision might make the franchise come to that realization once and for all.
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