Ok Laker fans, the moment we’ve been waiting for promised is less than 1 week away; the start of the 2014 NBA free agent season. Lakers management has been planning for this for almost 3 years now, carefully constructing almost every contract on the books to expire at 12:01 am EST on July 1st, when teams can officially begin negotiating with free agents. The Lakers will have money to spend; more than $30 million being cleared up for the upcoming free agent bonanza.
The 2 main domino’s fell in recent days as the Lakers’ main targets, LeBron James & Carmelo Anthony both announced they would opt out of their current deals with their teams and become free agents. Signing them both would be nothing short of a grand slam in the world series, as they would form an extremely potent Big 3 along with Kobe Bryant, who is still under contract for 2 more seasons. Now allow me to preface the remainder of this column by saying that I am indeed a realist, and I personally think that even signing either player, never mind both is a long shot at best. But that is half the fun of free agency; all the speculation, rumors, and “what if’s?”. So if the Lakers are able to pull off the Hail Mary of Anthony & James, here’s how it can happen.
Pay Cuts: As I stated earlier, the Lakers will have an ample amount of money to offer free agents. Both James & Anthony will be able to command maximum contracts from the Lakers; 4 years, $95 million. However, should they agree to such contracts, there goes nearly the entire Lakers salary (Bryant also on a near max deal). When James teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010, they each took a pay cut to allow the Miami Heat to sign a supporting cast of players. If James & Anthony took similar cuts, let’s say 4 years $85 million each, that’s $10 million in cap room the Lakers can spend on a supporting cast (perhaps bring back free agent Pau Gasol at a reduced rate). If the Lakers are also able to trade their 2014 draft pick along with the expiring contract of Steve Nash without taking on additional salary, that’s another $9 million to spend on said supporting cast. To make it more appealing to James & Anthony, include an opt-out clause after 2 years, which is when Bryant’s contract will expire, which leads us to…
Get Kobe on board: Bryant has sent mixed signals over the last 2 years about whether or not he would play the role of recruiter for the Lakers. But as I wrote last summer, a lot of top level free agents are now being recruited throughout the season by their peers and friends throughout the league. Bryant must get in that habit. Kobe has mentioned repeatedly how close a bond he and Anthony share; time to put that bond to use. Bryant has also said publicly that if he could play alongside any of today’s top players it would be LeBron James, as he feels their skill sets compliment each other very well.
The more the merrier: The growing trend in the NBA since 2008 has been the building or putting together of “super-teams”. The Celtics did it with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, which was also the inspiration for the before-mentioned 2010 Miami Heat. The Lakers tried it in the summer f 2012, bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to pair with Pau Gasol and Bryant, but that was a disaster of epic proportions. Other teams are also still constructing their power cores, such as Houston and the LA Clippers. The point is, players locked into long-term contracts are now recruiting their free agent friends to play with them. James has said repeatedly he prefers to be on a team where the players around him are of his talent level; he wants to play with his friends. Anthony has been the alpha dog his entire NBA career, and it hasn’t gotten him far, and it seems he has finally conceded that fact. With the close ties between Anthony, Bryant and James, it could be the recipe for the perfect storm.
All that said, all we can do now is wait and see what James, Anthony and the Lakers decide to do. Should the Lakers strike out on both, they do have contingency plans in place, but if either player expresses a desire to come to Los Angeles, GM Mitch Kupchak said as recently as Thursday night’s draft the Lakers are prepared to go “all out” to get them there. The framework for the dream is in place, now it’s time to see if the dream can come true.