Carmelo Anthony Has Much Better Free-Agent Options Than Los Angeles Lakers

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 26, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during their game at Staples Center on December 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Carmelo Anthony has plenty of choices in front of him as a free agent this summer, but don't expect him to seriously consider the Los Angeles Lakers as one of them.

Let's just get right into it: The Lakers are a terrible destination for Anthony.

Saddled by Kobe Bryant's ridiculous contract, L.A. is stuck in no man's land for at least a couple of years. And before anybody pipes up, I get it: The Lakers are paying Bryant $48.5 million over the next two seasons for reasons that go beyond what he'll be worth as a basketball player.

They want to reward him for his service to the franchise while simultaneously sending a message to prospective Lakers that the organization takes care of its own. That's fine.

But from a practical perspective, Bryant's salary means L.A. is using superstar money on a player who—by any logical survey—cannot be expected to play like a superstar. 

Danny Johnston/Associated Press

Sure, he's Kobe Bryant. If anyone can somehow find a way to be effective at his age and with his recent injury history, it's him. But let's not confuse him with some kind of superhero.

In order to be competitive, the Lakers really have just two options: They can either convince other stars to take paycuts to join Bryant, essentially making up the money they should have saved on his deal by taking it out of the pockets of others, or they can take the careful approach of rebuilding gradually over the next couple of years.

If Anthony's willing to pair up with Bryant for less money, surrender touches on offense, deal with the alpha dog attitude that has alienated virtually every talented player with whom Bryant has played (with the lone exception of the saintly Pau Gasoland trust that the Lakers can find serious help to add to the mix right away, L.A. could make noise this year.

But let's be serious: That's not happening.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The alternative plan features Anthony going to the Lakers at the market rate (read: near the max) and waiting a couple of years until Bryant's contract is off the books.

Melo, your thoughts?

"I don't know if I can afford to wait another season of losing," Anthony told ESPN.com's Ian Begley back in April. "I really can't see that picture right now."

Well, so much for that.

Even if we completely remove Bryant's contract, the Lakers' weird in-limbo status and any other issues specific to their current roster, there's still the glaring issue of the Western Conference's ridiculous difficulty.

Anthony also told Begley winning was his only concern, and if that's true, he'd be crazy to sign on with a team out West—especially one that wasn't already equipped with a handful of stars. Getting to the Finals from the West is going to be almost impossible for the Lakers in the near future.

Conservatively, there are 10 teams in the conference that figure to have better odds of making the Finals than they will, and Anthony—even if he's comfortable waiting a year or two for some reinforcements—won't want to take a difficult road when an easier one exists.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

In that sense, Melo might actually have a better chance of winning big if he stays with the New York Knicks.

Digest that for a second.

The Knicks are kind of a mess, but other than the Miami Heat (who could come apart this summer), the East lacks a transcendent team. The Lakers have much stiffer competition, making a trip to the Finals in the near future nearly impossible.

Look, Los Angeles has a lot going for it. The weather's great, it's a huge market, there's an unparalleled legacy of success and it's always at least a peripheral player in the free-agent market.

But when you consider the complicated situation with the Lakers against the alternatives available to Anthony, the decision gets even clearer.

If Anthony wants to win, the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls—three teams Chris Broussard of ESPN reports are among his favorites—are better options. The rosters are deeper, they have actual head coaches in place and all three made the playoffs last year.

Still, Bryant is going to do his best to make a sales pitch, per Broussard:

Though the Los Angeles Lakers are not on Anthony's current list, Kobe Bryant plans to recruit him to the team. Bryant, who is close with Anthony, spoke to him by telephone when they were in separate parts of Europe earlier this week.

Bryant told ESPN.com in a text message that he plans to meet with Anthony, as well.

There's nothing wrong with Bryant making a play for Anthony. Even if signing him seems like a pipe dream, it's probably better for the Lakers to at least give the appearance that they're not resigned to losing out on big names until Bryant's contract expires.

But here's the thing: If you're a Lakers fan, you should probably be happy Anthony isn't currently considering your team as a viable destination. He's not the guy you want leading you into the post-Kobe era, and if he's the best, highest-paid player on your roster, you're probably not a realistic championship contender.

Giving Anthony big bucks on a long-term deal means being stuck with him as he enters his decline phase, which is basically the same issue L.A. is facing with Bryant now.

The Lakers are wise to act as though they're in the mix, still moving and shaking on the trade and free-agent markets like they always have. But it's probably best for everyone if Melo politely declines whatever invitation Bryant makes and seeks out other opportunities.

Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don't—and in the Lakers' case, can't—make.


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