Here's part of an article that I wrote regarding the Lakers and their quest to sign Carmelo Anthony. There is reason to believe that the franchise may actually be better off not landing Melo, and I explore that issue here. Please check out the full article (and the rest of my work) here:
The Lakers are currently waiting with baited breath for Carmelo Anthony to make his decision about which franchise he will spend the next 4-5 years playing for, and they aren't the only ones. It seems as though half the league is being held in limbo by the pending decisions of Anthony and LeBron James. The other two of Miami's "Big Three" are also refusing to sign contracts with teams until they know what LeBron is doing and what free agents Miami are signing, creating a domino effect (LeBronimo effect?).
While the Lakers have expressed interest in James and met with his agent the belief is that he will likely either return to Miami or head back to his home town of Cleveland, leaving LA with a slim chance of landing the self-proclaimed King.
Anthony, however, is another story altogether. Carmelo just so happens to be very good friends with Kobe Bean Bryant, and rumors have been circulating that the Lakers are very much in the running for the services of the star forward. Should they be though?
Make no mistake, the Lakers want Carmelo Anthony on their roster. They want to give him a max contract and let him and Kobe see what kind of noise they can make before Kobe retires, after which it will be on the then 32-year-old Melo to lead the team into the future. That’s the plan as it stands. And it flies in the face of how the Lakers have found success historically.
The pursuit of Anthony has been something of a flawed concept from the start. Carmelo is at the tail-end of his prime and is expecting a massive contract and a team built around him to win now. If he signs with the Lakers he will be 34 at the end of his contract and making over $28 million, which is more than even Kobe’s controversial contract will pay him this season. Adding Anthony brings legitimacy to the Lakers right away, however spending big dollars on superstar free agents with a limited window to win has historically not been the Laker way.
Look at the ages of the notable superstars (or potential superstars) the Lakers signed as free agents or acquired via trade:
Shaquille O’Neal- 25
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar- 28
Elgin Baylor- 26
Kobe Bryant- 18
Dwight Howard- 27
Next to Wilt Chamberlain, a center who used his size and strength to dominate, Carmelo would be the oldest superstar the Lakers have acquired (I omitted players like Steve Nash, Karl Malone and Gary Payton from the list because they were brought in to be role players at that stage of their careers).
Carmelo doesn't have the enormous size and strength that Chamberlain enjoyed, relying instead on a quick first step to take power forwards off the dribble and lethal jumper to shoot over small forwards. In a way this is a good thing. He doesn't have a modern game based entirely on athleticism, which will help his longevity. Instead he has some elements of an athleticism-based game (first step explosiveness and spins) as well as some that are skill based (pull up and turn around jumpers, footwork, using his body to create space).
Even with Melo's nicely blended offensive skills it must be said that Father Time is undefeated, and after he went Chuck Norris on Nash and Kobe last year it may not be the best idea for the Lakers to tussle with him again. At this point it is a safe bet that the days of Anthony being in his prime are dangerously close to being over. It would not be surprising to see Melo start a slow decline as soon as next season.
With that being the case the Lakers all-out attempt to woo Carmelo Anthony with a long-term contract not only appears foolish but painfully short-sighted. The new CBA makes it more difficult than ever to poach younger stars from the franchises that drafted them and the Lakers have yet to adapt to the new system. Rookies are locked up under team-friendly contracts for as long as their first 5 years in the league and then they are given major financial incentives and restrictions in order to keep them with their home team. This is why there was no doubt that Kyrie Irving would stay in Cleveland in spite of it being the most miserable city in the US. They could offer way more money than anyone else and as a young player who hadn't really made his fortune yet he couldn't turn it down. Due to this the Lakers ability to land another 25-year-old superstar is severely hampered.
Teams today are primarily built through the draft and using cap space to facilitate trades, yet the Lakers in recent years have traded away first round picks in a manner that suggests they have underestimated their value. Specifically, losing the first-rounders sent out in the Dwight Howard and Steve Nash trades will haunt the team for years to come. Without first-round picks to grease the wheels finding a way to significantly upgrade a roster is extremely tricky, especially if a team has spent most of its cap space already.
This brings us back to Carmelo Anthony. He is a superstar on the offensive end of the court but needs a sturdy defense built around him (like the one in say, Chicago). If the Lakers sign him they will likely use the stretch provision on Steve Nash, taking his contract and dividing it up over the next three years in order to give them a little more wiggle room. From all reports that room would be used to bring back Pau Gasol, giving the Lakers a lineup that looks something like this:
PG: Kendall Marshall, Jordan Clarkson
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Julius Randle
C: Pau Gasol/Robert Sacre
On paper it isn’t a terrible lineup but it isn’t one that screams “championship” either. The giant red-flag on this team would be defense, as every player in the starting 5 is considered a poor defender at this stage in their careers.
Due to the restrictions of the new CBA the Lakers would likely have only league-minimum (or slightly above) contracts available to fill out the rest of their roster, which means they can’t count on getting any significant pieces. They could target players who are solid defenders in order to help make up this deficiency but with little to offer in terms of money they aren’t likely to find anyone who will make an impact.
Furthermore, there is a massive opportunity cost to adding Carmelo Anthony. While it’s true that he is a Tier 1 Superstar (for now), there are a few young tier 3 players (not quite All Stars, but good players) still available that could develop into something special.
Diminutive point guard and Laker fan Isiah Thomas, for example, is said to be hoping for an offer from LA. Likewise, Lance Stephenson seems to be on his way out in Indiana and could be had for a solid offer. Chandler Parsons, Eric Bledsoe, and Greg Monroe are still dangling in the wind as restricted free agents.
The money that the Lakers would need to spend on Carmelo could be enough to bring in two of those players AND still have enough left over to bring back someone like Nick Young. It isn't clear whether or not Pau Gasol would return if the Lakers went that route though.
It is also has to be noted that the Lakers will simply shift their attention to players such as Thomas, Stephenson, and the rest if and when Carmelo opts to sign elsewhere. The danger, of course, is that Carmelo may take some time to decide and by that point the remaining talent in the free agency pool will already be snatched up, leaving the Lakers in big trouble. Even someone like Thomas, who has always dreamed of being in a Laker uniform, can’t wait around forever.
Still, the gamble may be worth it. After all, the prevalent wisdom in the league currently says that teams need superstars, period. Get them however and whenever you can because they are in limited supply. Carmelo isn't going to dominate both ends of the floor but by most accounts he is a superstar.
Should the Lakers succeed in landing Carmelo they will absolutely return to legitimacy in the short-term, although most would not pick them as true contenders for the title. However, they would be committing themselves to paying Anthony a fee that will almost certainly exceed his production level as he gets pulled further into his 30’s. The idea is that Carmelo can help recruit another star to play with him in LA when Kobe retires, but that may backfire on the Lakers. It may very well be Carmelo’s massive contract that actually prevents the Lakers from landing another star rather than coaxing one to the franchise for the opportunity to play alongside him.
***Most consider Kobe’s contract to be a bad one, and I agree. It’s too much money if the team wants to have enough cap space to truly contend (the owners role in the strict CBA and the ridiculous notion that it's on the players to take pay cuts to win is a discussion for another day). There are some benefits to the deal though, one of them being that Kobe’s contract is like a $24 million bat-signal to other superstars that the Lakers take care of their own.
Kobe was still recovering from his Achilles surgery when the Lakers gave him his deal. Jeanie Buss repeatedly said that having Kobe retire a Laker was something important to the franchise, and was near-tears while describing how sad she was that Magic wasn't given the opportunity to truly say goodbye. Now, when superstars are looking to jump ship they can feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that the Lakers do right by their players, even if it makes roster-building that much more difficult. When push comes to shove and the chips are down the Lakers stand by their superstars. Well, except for Pau.
We don’t know for certain whether or not signing Carmelo is going to be the best thing for the Lakers long-term. It has the feel of a band-aid move, and as such it could blow up in their faces. It would seem that the more prudent move would be to continue the rebuild process by focusing on finding young talent that can be developed rather than trying to skip steps by going all-in after a superstar right now.
Still, after the Dwight debacle it would admittedly feel good to win one in free agency. If Carmelo decides that NY, Chicago, or somewhere else is a better fit for him then Laker fans can, at the very least, feel relieved that they may have inadvertently dodged a bullet. If he signs on to wear the Golden Armor then by all means celebrate the arrival of another star, enjoy it, and trust in the Lakers to make the right moves to build around him. It’s all we can do.
For continued coverage of the Carmelo pursuit and all the Lakers activities in free agency follow me on twitter @16ringsNBA