The Los Angeles Lakers have emerged as a serious contender in the Carmelo Anthony free agency sweepstakes, but the New York Knicks are still favorites to re-sign their star forward.
Josh Rebholz, UCLA’s senior associate athletic director for external affairs, tweeted on Sunday that Anthony, Lakers star Kobe Bryant and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love were playing pickup basketball at the school. Eventually, he deleted the tweet, and UCLA denied that the meeting had occurred, the New York Post reports.
Despite the denial, UCLA assistant basketball coach David Grace corroborated Rebholz’s account with a tweet of his own. “Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Love here at UCLA playing pick up!!! That’s what happens here at UCLA!!!!” he wrote.
However, a source familiar with the situation told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports that Love never met with Bryant or Anthony. “If Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant were playing ball at UCLA today, one thing’s for sure, source tells Yahoo: Kevin Love wasn’t with them," he said.
But Love played college basketball at UCLA, and all three men live in Los Angeles during the NBA offseason, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News notes. It’s conceivable that all three men could train at UCLA without such an occurrence serving as confirmation of Anthony’s intent to sign with the Lakers.
Regardless of whether or not the pickup game occurred, the Lakers are now considered to be a frontrunner in the race to acquire Anthony, having moved ahead of rivals like the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets with a strong presentation by Bryant, general manager Mitch Kupchak and team president Jeanie Buss, Yahoo Sports reported. The Lakers reportedly offered Anthony a four-year, $97 million max contract.
Still, the Knicks remain Anthony’s most likely destination. In the midst of the Lakers’ recruiting efforts, Knicks team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher flew to Los Angeles to pitch Anthony on their vision for the franchise.
Jackson’s plan to rebuild the Knicks’ roster, along with a five-year, $129 million max contract offer to Anthony, reportedly bolstered the franchise’s chances of re-signing their franchise player. “[Anthony] just wants to feel like he’s not all alone on the court,” an official told Yahoo Sports.
To that end, Jackson traded center Tyson Chandler and point guard Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks to acquire Jose Calderon, a nine-year NBA veteran, to run the Knicks' backcourt. In addition, he reportedly hopes to sign free agent Lakers forward Pau Gasol, provided that 34-year-old is willing to take a significant pay cut. Gasol played with Fisher in Los Angeles, and both he and Calderon are members of the Spanish national team.
If Anthony does choose to re-sign, Jackson would use him as a basis with which to lure additional free agents to New York in 2015 and 2016, when expiring contracts will give the Knicks plenty of cap space.