The Fourth of July weekend was rife with speculation about the Los Angeles Lakers’ hopes to sign free-agent superstars.
Bill Simmons, the founding father of Grantland, tweeted that Carmelo Anthony was a legitimate possibility to join the team, setting the stage for endless speculation on how this might actually come to pass.
Even the idea of the best player in basketball coming on board began to pick up heat, as according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Lakers executives Mitch Kupchak and Tim Harris made a pilgrimage to Cleveland to meet with LeBron James’ agent Rich Paul:
Just as they feel relatively more optimistic about securing Anthony than before their meeting, the Lakers likely believe a meeting with Paul could then ensure a personal meeting with James. Then, the Lakers could sell their vision to James about collaborating together to win more championships.
And if you’re a Lakers fan, that’s what you want to hear: Major superstars are on the road to the land of purple and gold, and sign every last one of them no matter how you have to stretch and pinch and sacrifice the almighty dollar. Just somehow make it happen!
It drove every narrative. The rumors threatened to engulf basketball’s very existence.
For one holiday weekend, the Lakers were golden again. Their own resident top free agent, Pau Gasol, was also intrinsically linked to the larger dreams of packaging stars as he was pitched to James and Anthony as one of team’s major assets—the other being reigning franchise cornerstone Kobe Bryant.
But what if none of this actually comes to pass?
What if the celebratory balloons suddenly all deflate with an unhappy whistling, shuddering, oxygen-sucking sound? Then what?
What if, after all this, James stays in Miami, Anthony remains in the Big Apple, and Gasol spreads his soulful Spanish wings and leaves to join one of those “other” teams?
Suddenly, the Lakers’ holiday weekend dreams are left looking like unexploded fireworks at the Rose Bowl—the morning after.
The team has gone all in on the big show, refraining from spending on any other free agents until they get definitive word from the major stars. There’s really no other choice—the only way to preserve the necessary cap room is to hold onto every last morsel of money.
But in the meantime, other players are stepping out of the ever-shrinking free-agency pool.
Dirk Nowitzki re-upped with the Dallas Mavericks, Kyle Lowry returned to the Toronto Raptors, Marcin Gortat stayed with the Washington Wizards, and Spencer Hawes decided to sign on with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Lakers’ own free agents have also been exiting stage left. Chris Kaman headed up to the Portland Trail Blazers, Jodie Meeks got a nice payday with the Detroit Pistons, and as reported by Arash Markazi and Dave McMenamin of ESPN, Jordan Farmar grew tired of waiting and crossed the hall to join the Clippers.
The speculation is that Anthony will make a decision by Monday, but what if he needs more time? These major life decisions aren't all that easy after all. There needs to be long and thoughtful deliberations.
Any decision by James is likely to take a whole lot longer, and the free-agency clock will keep ticking down.
And as the Lakers try to keep their powder dry, other prospects will continue to ebb away. The rank-and-file journeymen don’t have the luxury of waiting—they follow the offers and sign.
Los Angeles has stuck to its guns so far. They cleared out most of their roster in order to chase the megastars and have also avoided hiring a head coach for much the same reason—landing someone of James’ luminosity could certainly affect your choice of a sideline leader.
But if Bryant is left as the last star standing in Lakerland, the team will have to go back to the basics. They’ll still have Julius Randle—the No. 7 pick in this year’s draft could make a powerful impact in the paint right away. Management was also able to buy the No. 46 pick from the Washington Wizards, selecting 6’5” point guard prospect Jordan Clarkson.
The team also has utility center Robert Sacre—although it’s a bit hard envisioning him as their starting center. Plus, they extended a qualifying offer to last year’s draft pick: Ryan Kelly, a stretch 4 who developed nicely under former coach Mike D’Antoni.
And, of course, this will be the third and final season in Los Angeles for the chronically injured Steve Nash. Will he be able to suit up and play, and if so, for how many games?
The starless scenario would ultimately look something like last year’s Bad News Bears—an amalgamation of castoffs and minimum-salary misfits led by Bryant, who after nearly a year away with injuries and with the added indignation of not having attracted a single major free agent, could wind up trying to light up each and every game all on his own.
And that might ultimately be what the season looks like—full of sound and fury, signifying nothing in the way of championship dreams but offering some entertaining basketball nonetheless.
The Lakers hope that's not the case. For now, hope still springs eternal.