Part of their understated status is self-inflicted. It became clear midway through last season that the Lakers would, in all likelihood, duck spending inordinate amounts of cash this year and patiently yet anxiously await summer 2015, when more star free agents would be available.
Plans, like they tend to do under the bright lights of Hollywood, have changed. The Lakers' passive search for free-agent stars has turned aggressive. They're willing to write checks now, preparing to make a splash now.
Anthony has, naturally, topped their list of prospective targets. According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, they're pulling out all the stops for his free-agent sales pitch, offering everything they can, playing to his personal and professional interests.
And while they remain long shots to rip him from the New York Knicks' clutches, the Lakers have one simplistically powerful element diligently working in their favor: The lengths they're ready to travel for Anthony might just exceed those of everyone else.
Pulling Out All the Stops
Obligatory disclaimer: This isn't a ringing endorsement for the Lakers to mortgage their future and move heaven and earth for Anthony.
I've personally argued the contrary on more than one occasion in recent months. My stance hasn't changed. But Los Angeles' has, which is all that matters.
This isn't about me, you or the shirtless ukulele-playing gentleman who is fluent in gibberish and delivers eclectic oratories on the importance of the letter "Q" you sometimes pass on the street. This is about the Lakers, their renewed interest in making moves now and their attempt to clothe Melo in purple and gold.
Those who doubt the significance of their pursuit have been silenced by Kobe Bryant, who makes it his business to quell detractors and non-believers. Shelburne says that Bryant has made courting Anthony a vacation-shortening priority:
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant flew in late Wednesday night from a European vacation so he could play a key part in the team's pitch to free-agent forward Carmelo Anthony on Thursday, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Bryant has a long history and friendship with Anthony and has been courting him for some time, but he felt it was important to be there when the Lakers made their pitch to him at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles.
Team president Jeanie Buss has also ingrained herself within the thick of Los Angeles' sales pitch, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. She did not make herself available to recruit Dwight Howard last summer.
To wit: This is for real. No smokescreens, no attempts at deception, no artificial flattery, no ulterior motive-saturated masquerades.
The Lakers want Anthony.
There will be no grand gestures, no billboards begging and pleading with him to sign in Los Angeles, but they still want him.
As Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report explains, the Lakers will do everything they can to sell themselves: "The Lakers' approach will be low-key compared to what Anthony saw in Chicago on Tuesday and Houston on Wednesday. Their philosophy is that they want to be chosen on honest merits, as a franchise that simply takes care of its superstars and knows how to win like no one else in sports."
Honesty is the best policy.
So is a willingness to pay.
Melo can earn a little over $22.4 million in the first year of his new deal. Though he's said he will take a pay cut if it means playing for a contender, money talks. And the Lakers' cap situation is speaking volumes.
Left alone, the Lakers can offer Anthony a near-max salary. Whatever ground needs to be made up, they're prepared to make up.
Moving Randle and Nash—if it's necessary, which it might not be—would open up more than $10 million in cap space, leaving them with more than enough to cover Anthony's salary demands while adding perhaps another piece to the puzzle.
Ideal? Not at all.
Committing more than $45 million of a $63.2 million salary cap to Bryant and Anthony alone doesn't spell good times—not in the Western Conference and most certainly not when there would be next to no significant role players around them.
Shallow, aging rotations won't supersede depth as we saw in this year's NBA Finals. An inability to deepen their rotation after paying Anthony and Bryant hinders the Lakers' sales pitch.
But their ability and willingness to pay him could be all they need.
Insultingly Cheaper Alternatives
Expectations that have Anthony accepting a pay cut are spiraling out of control. There's taking a little less, there's taking a lot less, and then there's what some are asking Melo to do.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has already said his team won't be handing out any max contracts this summer, per ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon. For the Houston Rockets to even offer Anthony something north of $18 million annually while keeping Chandler Parsons, they must clear their books of everybody not named Dwight Howard, James Harden, Isaiah Canaan, Patrick Beverley and Parsons. If they're lucky, they might be able to keep either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas.
The Chicago Bulls, once widely considered the Knicks' biggest threat, are facing similar limitations. Marc Berman of the New York Post says they floated the idea of Anthony taking a $16 million salary in 2014-15. He was predictably not enthused.
If the Mavs and Bulls are unwilling to make the necessary moves to offer Anthony a max salary, and the Rockets prove incapable of giving him that much, everyone immediately looks toward the Knicks. They can offer Anthony a fifth year and more money than any other team. If all else fails, Anthony can sign a lavish pact with them.
Or, you know, maybe not.
Phil Jackson has publicly admitted that he expects Anthony to take a pay cut, so there's a chance the Knicks don't even offer him a max deal.
"When I take his word, he's the one who opened that up, that it wasn't about the money," he said, per ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk. "So I challenged him on that, because I wanted our fans to see he's a team player, that he was going to do what's best to get our team ahead farther and faster."
That fifth year is valuable in this sense. The Knicks can ask Anthony to take a pay cut while still offering him more money over the life of his deal than anyone else. But if you're Anthony, aren't you at least considering the one team that may be wielding a max deal?
Forget the actual money and length of his next contract. It's the principle. Anthony is a superstar, yet it's somehow possible that only one club will put a max deal on the table. And that one club may not even be his current team.
What other top-10 superstar can you say that about? Teams would pounce at the opportunity to gut their rosters for max cap space if it meant landing LeBron James or Kevin Durant, Kevin Love or Anthony Davis, and even Blake Griffin or Russell Westbrook.
Facing a slew of contract proposals, most of which won't pay him max money, Anthony could roll with the offer he feels deserving of, the one that panders to a superstar's ego.
The one the Lakers will be brandishing.
Money Still Talking
Money alone will not swing Anthony's decision. We know this. Even if he signs a max deal somewhere, even if that somewhere is New York, winning will matter.
And yeah, money too.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune writes that "speculation exists throughout the league that Anthony, despite publicly saying he would take a pay cut to play for a winner, still desires a maximum or near-maximum offer."
Certain suitors can't offer that much. The ones that can may not want to.
There's no guarantee the Bulls are willing to dump Taj Gibson. Or that the Rockets will tear their roster completely apart for one player. Or that the Bank of Mark Cuban is actually open.
Or that the Knicks will sacrifice future flexibility to keep their most important player.
There is a growing sense that the Lakers will.
That they will do anything it takes to sign Anthony.
That they will do everything in their power to offer what some can't and others won't and move ahead of the pack they once lagged behind.
*Salary information via ShamSports.