NBA free agency brings as many huge questions in 2015, as it does any other July. When you go down the list of top free agents in play to switch teams this summer, one particular question stands out: Do the Lakers and Knicks have any pull?
This is the question bubbling under the surface for players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and other top candidates. This is a question that, once answered, makes resolving where these stars land so much clearer.
To be sure, the Lakers and Knicks are garbage. L.A. was impossibly bad in 2014-15, from top to bottom. Only one player -- Jordan Clarkson -- had a truly productive season. Everyone else was a disappointment in one way or another. The Knicks were even worse! Injuries to superstars played a role in each failure, but it's rather clear that even if Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant were healthy, these squads weren't threatening .500. Consider what we know about the 76ers' blueprint and consider that these two teams were in contention to be worse than Philadelphia until the final week of the season.
Yet, the Lakers are the Lakers, the Knicks are the Knicks and both teams had solid drafts. There's a revival narrative being written, and the storied franchises can sell free agents on being a part of that.
Mediocrity has rarely been an obstacle for the Knicks in July. New York was awful when Amare Stoudemire made the decision to sign there in 2010. Don't forget that Amare was a big star and a huge whale for them, despite what he quickly became. There was a bumper crop of elite free agents in 2010, but Amare was easily in the top 10. Months later, with the Knicks hovering around .500, Melo forced a trade to the Knicks of all teams.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are almost never bad, so there isn't a history of L.A. pulling free agents despite sitting in the cellar. But there is a history of the Lakers rebounding super quickly and building powerhouses out of chaff and magic. It would be no surprise if the Lakers landed Love or Aldridge or, hell, even Marc Gasol because they are the Lakers. This is what they do: snap their fingers and a superstar appears. Rings and weather are a tough combo to pass up.
In the end, this will come down to individual players' motivations. Aldridge has never seemed like the typical fame chaser. Love is different. Neither of them have a personality remotely like LeBron James in 2010, Shaq in 1996 or Tim Duncan in 2000. Neither has really won much of anything; the key performance difference has been that Aldridge has played with Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard while Love played with Randy Foye, Luke Ridnour and a very young Ricky Rubio until this season. Both will have opportunities to join big winners. Love can stay in Cleveland and compete for a title, and Aldridge is being recruited by San Antonio -- the most successful franchise of the past 15 years. Yet both seem to be approaching free agency with open minds.
New York and L.A. have advantages as massive, glamorous, rich cities, and the Knicks and Lakers have built up cap space to offer. It's a deadly combination. Whether it's enough to fast-track those teams' rebuilding processes or whether the Knicks and Lakers will have to plod through and build slowly like other franchises in less alluring locales will largely be decided in the next week or two. We're going to find out what pull these franchises have in 2015.
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