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Pairing of Kobe, Melo Offers Chance to Reinvent Themselves in Unforeseen Ways

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Pairing of Kobe, Melo Offers Chance to Reinvent Themselves in Unforeseen Ways
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LOS ANGELES — Let's run through a few of the things you could rightly say about Carmelo Anthony if he decides to make a free-agent move to the Los Angeles Lakers.

He still wants to be about as rich as possible. He wants to be even more famous.

He isn't angling to take the shortest line to the NBA Finals via Chicago or Miami. He also doesn't appreciate just how much Phil Jackson would teach him in New York.

And he doesn't see any indignity in hopping from franchise to franchise, chasing cheap optimism, no matter that Pat Riley recently preached to LeBron James that "you don't find the first door and run out of it if you have an opportunity."

As far as championship character goes, Anthony would not be the finest specimen in the Lakers' long line of superstars. And so soon after struggling to show immature Dwight Howard the Laker way, the club would be gambling everything that Anthony has what it takes to grow respectably into what Kobe Bryant reverentially calls "the Golden Armor."

There clearly are some cons, which is why during the season the Lakers weren't so sure Anthony was worth this kind of investment.

But let's take a closer look at just one of the pros: Dating back to the first year (1977) for which data can be tracked about the number of a team's plays an individual player uses, Bryant ranks fourth in usage percentage among all players. Anthony ranks fifth.

(The top three, according to Basketball-Reference.com, are Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. Currently trailing Bryant and Anthony? A couple of pretty heavy-usage fellas in this era named LeBron James and Kevin Durant.)

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
Despite his reputation as a shoot-first scorer, Carmelo Anthony has proved an effective passer, averaging better than three assists per game for his career.

So we're talking about the Nos. 4 and 5 in all-time usage coming together to try to share one ball…and we're talking about this as a pro, not a con?

Yep, because it would be just that: Anthony and Bryant coming together to try to share one ball.

Each one would be choosing to join the other, with the need for sacrifice and adjustment impossible to miss considering their track records dominating the ball.

It would mean Anthony is actually embracing the chance to play second fiddle on a team completely rooted in Bryant's exulted status. It would be Anthony uncharacteristically subverting his ego, accepting that those crunch-time shots he has gotten so good at might no longer be his.

Anthony's arrival would mean Bryant is above chasing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career scoring record and deems Anthony someone worthy of taking his points and Lakers legacy. It would send a message that Anthony trusts Bryant is willing to showcase the passing skills that were so good in 2012-13 that Mike D'Antoni wound up playing Bryant at point guard instead of Steve Nash.

Bear in mind that Bryant, at a time when he was just starting to learn what Jackson would teach him, showed he could facilitate for a championship team en route to Shaquille O'Neal's three consecutive NBA Finals MVP awards. The basketball cycle could come full circle if Bryant finishes as the high-profile setup man again—and it could even change the end point of his career.

It was on March 30, 2013 that Bryant passed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, and Bryant mentioned after that game in Sacramento how he could downshift and average 20 points and 12 assists as a de facto point guard if he so desired. Doing so, he said, could extend his career.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press
Kobe Bryant averaged more than six assists per game while playing for Mike D'Antoni the past two seasons.

"It's really just if I want to play," he said then, two weeks before he tore his Achilles tendon. "I could play. ... It's just a matter if I want to play."

Of course, wanting to share and being able to share are much different challenges. Anthony and Bryant could want to ride to the game together every night but always disagree on whether to take one of Anthony's old custom cars or one of Bryant's shiny new ones.

There would be kinks to work out together, especially if the Lakers can bring back a third mouth to feed in the post in the form of Pau Gasol. Perhaps in the same way D'Antoni's Phoenix teams rolled through opponents unprepared for the Suns' unconventionally fast style, those Lakers could be a strange team in an uptempo league—stressing mid-range jumpers and slow-down post play.

If Anthony ultimately opts to stay in New York, though, the Lakers almost getting him counts for nothing.

But after outsiders scoffed at the quiet confidence the Lakers felt even before meeting with Anthony last Thursday, there should be a heightened sense of confidence that the Lakers' plan to land new star players in free agency—whether Anthony, James or Chris Bosh this year or others next year—will work.

Anthony—though seemingly the most awkward fit with Bryant—would be an intriguing, and promising, start to the enterprise.

Two of the greediest players in basketball history, in terms of both shots and dollars, would be entering into a true partnership.

 

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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