The Los Angeles Lakers remain in the hunt for free agents LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, and the 16-time champion franchise has given the New York Knicks a scare in retaining the latter.
After visiting Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles, Anthony wrapped up his free agency tour on Thursday and reportedly received the Knicks and team president Phil Jackson’s pitch well. New York went the extra step and offered Anthony a maximum five-year, $129 million, against the grain of Jackson’s previous public statements when he said he hoped Anthony would take less to stay in New York and give the team more cap space to build a contender.
However according to ESPN, the Lakers left a deep impression on Anthony and are now seen as major threats, along with the Bulls, to pry the 30-year-old scoring machine from New York.
The Lakers have enough salary cap space to sign both Anthony and James to four-year max-deals, with only New York and James’s Miami Heat allowed to offer a fifth-year and $30 million more in guaranteed salary.
L.A.’s Kobe Bryant was unable to attend the team’s meeting with Anthony, but the two friends have remained in contact throughout the free agency process, and the five-time champion could be the Lakers’ best pitchman when it comes time for Anthony to make a final decision.
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James’s agent Rich Paul met with the Lakers on Friday, but it’s unclear if L.A. has pulled ahead of Miami or any other team vying for the four-time MVP. James has been on vacation ever since the start of free agency on July 1, with Paul acting as a liaison reportedly empowered to listen to offers from other teams.
After a frustrating five-game loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals last month, James exercised the opt-out clause in his contract with the Heat to become an unrestricted free agent for the second time in his career and in the last four years.
It’s been reported James is demanding a max-level salary, and while he may want to stay in Miami with teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, under the league’s salary cap rules the Heat wouldn’t be able to adhere to James’s request unless both Wade and Bosh take significant cuts.
Miami will also struggle to improve the team with better shooters, and a much needed upgrade at point guard, if James insists on a starting salary of $20.7 million.
Enter the Lakers, who already have Bryant wrapped up for the next two years, and have the cap space required to ink Anthony and James and form the next generation of the "Big Three", albeit in the much more competitive Western Conference.
The Lakers also remain favorites to bring back big man Pau Gasol, but only if they sign Anthony and or James, according to ESPN’s report. Gasol is entertaining cheaper offers from contenders like the Thunder, Spurs, Heat, Bulls and Knicks, but playing with Anthony or James and staying in Los Angeles might be enough to sway the seven-footer.