The Lakers might be gaining traction as a potential landing spot for unrestricted free agent Carmelo Anthony, according to multiple reports.
ESPN.com reported Saturday that the Lakers made a "major impact" during their meeting with Anthony in Los Angeles this week, so much so that they had joined the Knicks and Bulls as the All-Star forward's top suitors. Yahoo Sports also reported that the Lakers are now in "serious contention" for Anthony.
Entering Saturday, the Knicks had been widely viewed as the favorites to land Anthony, who met with the Bulls, Rockets, Mavericks, Lakers and Knicks during his free agency tour this week.
Although the Lakers' pitch to Anthony doesn't have all of the bases covered, it is appealing in parts: Anthony would be joining one of the league's richest and most prestigious franchises, an organization with global appeal in a major media market; Anthony would be able to receive a maximum four-year, $97 million contract; Anthony would be immediately teamed with friend and fellow All-Star Kobe Bryant; and Anthony would be joining a gutted roster that is slightly ahead of the Knicks in the rebuilding cycle.
The downsides to a cross-country move for Anthony are equally obvious: the Lakers are coming off of a 27-win season, the 35-year-old Bryant is set to be the league's highest-paid player even though he has recently suffered major Achilles and knee injuries; the presence of two $20+ million contracts would make it very difficult to build a roster deep enough to compete for a title; Anthony and Bryant are both ball-dominant superstars whose offensive games surpass their defensive abilities; and the Lakers play in the stronger Western Conference, making it more difficult to compete for a title.
One other variable that could be viewed as either a positive or a negative: the Lakers are currently without a coach. Optimists might view that as an opportunity for Anthony to help select a coach that can make the most out of his talents; pessimists might view the job opening, in conjunction with a mostly empty roster, as a reason for uncertainty about the organization's direction.
SI.com ranked Anthony at No. 2 in our "Top 25 Free Agents of 2014" list, pegging him as the most likely A-list superstar to leave his current situation. So far, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki has agreed to re-sign in Dallas, while the Heat's "Big Three" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh remain uncommitted.
Anthony, 30, averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 77 appearances last season, but the Knicks were unable to make the playoffs and finished with a disappointing 37-win season. New York traded starting center Tyson Chandler to Dallas in a deal that landed Jose Calderon in return, and Knicks president Phil Jackson is hamstrung slightly by major contracts owed to Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani. Nevertheless, the Knicks, as the incumbent team, can beat all outside offers to Anthony by offering him a five-year, $129 million contract to re-sign. New York is also expected to enjoy significant cap flexibility next summer.
Losing Anthony to L.A. would be a major public relations blow for Jackson, who won five titles as coach of the Lakers before retiring in 2011. The "Zenmaster" was hired by the Knicks as president earlier this year and subsequently hired former Lakers guard Derek Fisher as coach. Jackson's fiance, Jeanie Buss, is also a Lakers executive.