From the start, the Lakers Plan “A” was improbable, a real long shot. Lebron James, the object of the Lakers affection and the one person they think of as a savior, has always been content in Miami. Any negativity headed his way was courtesy of those outside the state of Florida, not inside. The Heat organization continually demonstrated their loyalty to him and the math has always been in their favor. The Heat can and will pay him whatever he wants; they can give him the most money. Add to that Lebron is happy splitting his time between South Beach and Akron, Ohio. His kids are in local schools, his wife started a juice business in town. Furthermore, Lebron has never given any indication that he has any interest in living in Los Angeles.
It has always been a one sided romance, the Lakers and Lebron James. Lebron never craved Hollywood acceptance or anointment like Dwight Howard or Shaq. But the Lakers are still the Lakers. They operate under assumptions until it stabs them in the heart. Attached to the enduring myth of their own past greatness, the Lakers keep plugging away. Last year it was Dwight Howard. This year it is Lebron James. What the Lakers are aware of, which is why they can swing for the fences year after year, is that they can have a terrible season and still net $100 million dollars.
And so the basketball operations mad men of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak have adhered to their plan. They rid themselves of most of their contracts, stayed loyal to Kobe and now here they are. Free agency is entering its first week and still there is no hint that the Lakers are any closer to landing Lebron James then they were last summer.
The Lakers Plan “B” was another high risk get. Carmelo Anthony, one of the preeminent shooters of his generation, is desperate to find a place where he can unburden himself of his multiple playoff failures. The New York Knicks can give him the most money but it will be a year, at the very least, before they can add talent which means Carmelo will be almost 32 years old come the playoffs in 2016. Waiting is hard for anyone but when you have spent 11 years in the NBA and there are only 7 years left, anxiety and desperation follow you around.
Carmelo has quality choices. He can join the high defensive team of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose and immediately be the favorites in the East. The Bulls though have to amnesty Carlos Boozer plus make other moves to give Carmelo $16 million which is far short of what he is worth on the open market. New York can offer more.
Carmelo on the Houston Rockets will be part of a Big Three, teaming up with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Defense might be suspect but they will lead the NBA in scoring. The Dallas Mavericks can’t pay Carmelo what he wants but can pair him up with two former champions in Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki and a former Coach of the Year in Rick Carlisle.
The Lakers are running behind the pack. They can pay Carmelo more than market value. He can live in Los Angeles and enhance his visibility and brand marketability. But the Lakers off court benefits underwhelm the basketball side. They don’t have a coach nor a style of play. They don’t have a roster. There is no infrastructure, no roots to their tree other than Kobe Bryant’s determination and willfulness. The problem with a lot of NBA front offices is that they misinterpret a one in a lifetime event and think it is a trend when it is not. The Heat coming together was not the beginning of a new era where players decided where they were going to go and who they were going to play with and play for. It happened once four years ago and hasn’t happened since. It is not the norm. There aren’t enough great players in the league who have the leverage to design their own future as if architects. But the Lakers, using the Miami Heat as a model- build it and they will come- is as far off base as you can get. They are a team without a coach and no roster yet are still in the promise making business.
Come Sunday or Monday, after Carmelo has his last meeting with the favorites to land him, the New York Knicks, once he has decided on next year, the Lakers may have to resort to Plan “C”. It is what a small group of fans and observers want anyway. Build the team in an organic way. Find talent, fill your holes, create a system of player evaluation in the United States and overseas. Have a system and stick to it. For the love of God hire a coach who can leave his imprint on the team and the players.
After Carmelo’s decision the market will shape up with what’s left. Pau Gasol. Lance Stephenson. Eric Bledsoe. Kyle Lowry. Evan Turner. Danny Granger. Greg Monroe. Trevor Ariza. Luol Deng.
A long time ago Shaquille O’Neal was unhappy with the front office of the Orlando Magic. They had reached an impasse over money and Shaq bolted for the Lakers. Back then the only interesting talent on the Lakers roster were Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel and 17 year old Kobe Bryant. Shaq came anyway because he loved the city and the idea of a marriage between himself and Hollywood.
It’s been 18 years since the Lakers have acquired a free agent of the stature, talent, dominance and future possibilities as Shaq. In those eighteen years the Lakers did their homework, they filled in the gaps. They added Rick Fox and Robert Horry. They added Horace Grant and Ron Harper. They added Derek Fisher and Brian Shaw. They added Devean George and Lamar Odom. They added Sasha Vujacic and Pau Gasol. They added Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum.
If the Lakers Plan A works they hit the jackpot.
If Plan B works they rolled the dice and won.
Plan C is a promissory note. Team building with mid level talent who with the right coach can work together. Yes, the Lakers like to go big. They do. But Plan C doesn’t necessarily mean the Lakers have to go home if they strikeout.