Take a good long look at those photos, because that very well could be a reality after the Summer of 2014. According to ESPN Reporters Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst the Lakers are refusing to sign anyone to a deal longer than a year in order to maximize their cap space to make a run at a big name free agent.
After the 2013/14 season the Lakers will only be on the hook for around $10M in salary. The NBA announced on July 10th that the salary cap for this season would be set at $58.679M which means the Lakers have roughly $48M to spend on free agents. What this means is the Lakers could potentially bring in two big names in the summer of 2014, which would completely revitalize a Lakers squad that looks poised to struggle next season.
The question here is whether or not LeBron or Carmelo would even be willing to exercise their early opt out clauses in their contracts and leave their current situations. Neither of the two are strangers to leaving their former franchises in search for greener pastures, and both would obviously like to play in situations that give them the opportunity to win multiple championships.
I have to believe that it is inherently more likely for Carmelo to opt out of his contract. This is not because he wants to leave New York, but because he will be looking for a long term contract, and he will be able to weigh his options. I believe Anthony would thrive in Los Angeles as he has shown that he can play in a big, media intensive market during his time in New York. I have to imagine that the thought of being the next big superstar in Los Angeles would be quite alluring to Carmelo, even if he would have to play with Kobe for at least a couple of those years.
Carmelo also wants to win championships, and though New York is trying to build a team around him to accomplish that the team he's playing for looks an awful lot like the team he played with in Denver. I realize that New York is a big time market and will attract players to come play with him, but the Lakers have a much a greater appeal than the big apple, considering the fact that it's warm nearly year round. The Lakers will also have the cap space to bring on other high profile talent that they can place around Carmelo and are no strangers to paying the luxury tax. I would not be surprised at all if Carmelo decides to head to Los Angeles on a long term deal there, however I wouldn't be surprised if he stays with the Knicks as he is known for calling New York "his city."
Lebron going to Los Angeles is far less feasible. Though I don't doubt he would consider it, LeBron wants to go somewhere, where he'll be able to compete for championships. While Los Angeles is certainly that place, and while he could go there and pair with other stars much as he did in Miami I don't think LeBron truly wants to be a Laker. Another factor that may be at work here, is that I highly doubt Kobe Bryant is going to be pushing management for a guy like LeBron to come into his town and take over his team and potentially win more rings than him. Kobe is a competitor, and I'd imagine the last thing he'd want is someone to steal his legacy in Los Angeles while he's still around, and LeBron poses a much greater threat to that than Carmelo.
While LeBron is clearly enjoying his time playing in South Beach, LeBron also still has a fondness for his home state of Ohio. Personally, I feel that when LeBron looks back at his career and the rings he won he'll wish that he won them back in Cleveland, which is exactly why I believe that is LeBron's next destination should he leave Miami. Cleveland clearly has a plan in place with some very, very good young talent in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and a still somewhat developing Dion Waiters (take better shots man). Cleveland will have the financial resources, and by signing Andrew Bynum they've given themselves another asset that may intrigue LeBron. While Bynum is only on a one year deal with a player option for the second year the Cavaliers could very well resign him should LeBron decide he wants to head back home.
I'm sure many people think that LeBron going back to Cleveland as his supporters there feel that he turned their back on him, but could you honestly sit there and tell me that Cleveland fans wouldn't welcome James back with open arms? Not to mention the fact that James loves media attention, he thrives on it, he revels in it, and imagine this story: The Prodigal Son Has Returned: LeBron James to Leave South Beach For Cleveland. There would truly be no bigger storyline in perhaps of all of sports should that happen (which means ESPN will shove it down our throats for a year or so) and I would be hooked on watching LeBron try to deliver a title back to his hometown. Doesn't sound so far fetched now does it?
Of course the one question mark that remains here is Kobe Bryant. I briefly discussed what that means for signing LeBron, but he could also hinder the signing of others because he does not wish to take a paycut. This could be problematic for the Lakers in terms of bringing in expensive players as Kobe will probably be making somewhere around $20M or more annually which takes about half of the Lakers' cap space away. However, should Kobe end up taking less money it's possible for the Lakers to bring in both LeBron and Carmelo, which would obviously be an immediate contender. While I highly doubt that would happen, it's always in the realm of possibilities.
Another thing to consider here is Pau Gasol. Gasol is one of the contracts that will be expiring at the end of this season, and it's highly unlikely that Gasol will be getting a huge contract. However, he can definitely still play and would be an extremely valuable piece should the Lakers get LeBron or Carmelo. Should both LeBron and Carmelo choose to opt out of their contract how long do the Lakers pursue these players before trying to extend Gasol? Do they extend Gasol at all? It will be very interesting to see the moves they make.
At the end of the day this is all speculation, and the Lakers may sign neither LeBron, or Carmelo. The Lakers obviously need to make moves now, and bring a franchise leader aboard, as Kobe isn't getting younger and they don't have any draft picks all the way until 2017.
Should this happen though? Well, that's a damn scary team to look at.
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