It's been a brutally disappointing offseason for the Los Angeles Lakers, but next summer could bring untold riches back to one of basketball's marquee franchise. With LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony possibly joining a stacked free agent class, the Lakers plan to aggressively pursue both players following next season, Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN LA report.
After striking out on their bid to sign Dwight Howard to a max contract, the Lakers could have significant cap flexibility entering the summer of 2014. With a free agent class potentially featuring James, Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Dirk Nowitzki, Danny Granger and Andrew Bogut, the possibilities are nearly endless.
However, Shelburne and Windhorst say that ultimately Los Angeles wants James and/or Anthony, even if it's unclear how that might happen:
"Opinions are split on whether the Lakers can actually land James or Anthony, with one source calling it 'realistic' and another saying it was 'far-fetched at this point.' Nonetheless, the Lakers have made it clear they are positioning themselves for a run at one and perhaps even two of the superstars who could become free agents in 2014, by refusing to commit to any contract past this next season."
By removing the huge contracts of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and others from their books before next season, there will be just two Lakers under contract: Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. That means L.A. could have huge flexibility to offer multiple max contracts, should that route be appealing.
The big remaining question is whether James or Anthony even wants to play for Los Angeles. Both players will likely use their early-termination options next summer to hit free agency, but nearly every team will be pursuing them -- based on past experience, one imagines whichever teams offers the best title chances will be at the front of the line.
That could be the Lakers, but it probably won't be. With just an aging Nash and an inexperienced Sacre around, other teams will surely be able to offer things Los Angeles can't. And while the nightlife and history provided by the Lakers appealed to many free agents over the years, we saw with Howard that sometimes other things take priority.
Entering what should be a frustrating 2013-14 season, the Lakers appear to have a plan. It's speculative, highly ambitious and probably a tad idealistic, but it's something -- and if it works, the Lakers' brief trip down rebuilding road will have been a resounding success.