The Lakers’ first order of business once free agency begins on June 30 at 9:01 p.m. Pacific time remains pretty clear.
They will try to set up meetings with both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and provide a pitch for them to sign with the Lakers, according to a person familiar with the Lakers’ free agency plans. Still, the Lakers are cautious on the ultimate result.
They are aware that James may just re-sign with the Miami Heat for less money so the team has greater flexibility to upgrade its roster after losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. The Lakers are also aware Anthony may just join James in Miami. Nonetheless, the Lakers’ interest in James is substantially higher than Anthony.
If both of them joined the Lakers, James and Anthony would have to take pay cuts. Anthony would have made $23.3 million next season, while James would have made $20 million. With Kobe Bryant ($23.5 million), Steve Nash ($9.7 million) and Robert Sacre ($915,000) under contract with the Lakers next season, they already have about $34 million eating into the projected $63 million cap.
The Lakers could free up money by somehow unloading Nash. They could do that by waiving Nash through the stretch provision, which would require the Lakers to pay his $9.7 million over three years instead of one. Or the Lakers could find offers for a trade package that would include Nash and their seventh overall draft pick.
James’ decision to opt out of the Heat makes sense even if his intentions are to stay with Miami. Without James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh opting out of their current contracts, the Heat would not have much money to pursue other free agents. Miami likely would have been only able to pursue a player at $3 million when the average NBA salary is priced at $5.5 million. Bosh and Wade each have two years and about $43 million left on their contracts. They are not expected to opt out for reasons including Wade’s recent injuries and Bosh’s hope to stay with Miami.
Meanwhile, the 30-year-old James has remained efficient after averaging 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists last season. Though the 30-year-old Anthony averaged 27.4 points on 45.2 percent shooting last season, there are concerns whether his friendship with Bryant would be enough in overcoming their overlapping skillsets as high-volume scorers.