Waiting for 2014
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Time to bring on the punt unit.

The Lakers are getting ready to kick away their 2013-14 season.

Even the Bobcats would have a tough time losing to this group of flunkies. Here's what the Lakers' starting five should look like on opening night:

PG Steve Nash

SG Jodie Meeks

SF Nick Young

PF Pau Gasol

C Chris Kaman

Talk about throwing in the towel.

But hey, wouldn't you do the same thing if you had a chance to get LeBron James AND Carmelo Anthony next summer?

It's true. After next season, every Laker except Steve Nash will be off the books.

With only Nash's $8.9 million salary to account for, the purple and gold will have $49.8 million to work with next summer (the salary cap is $58.7 million).

That's a pretty generous budget. But is it enough to land Bryant, Melo and King James?

Probably not. Those three made a combined $69.98 million last season.

Well, that settles that, right?

Not quite. The salary cap is like one of those "enter at your own risk" signs you see at the pool when the lifeguard is off duty. Swimming without a lifeguard isn't as safe but people do it all the time.

In fact, 50 percent of the league (15 out of 30 teams) will be over the cap in 2013-14. Seven of those fifteen teams will also be over the league's $71.7 million tax level. By going over $71.7 million, those squads will have to pay a luxury tax to the league, which gets evenly distributed among the teams that are under the limit.

Some teams would prefer to stay under the cap, while others ignore it all together. Brooklyn, owner of the highest payroll in the NBA (just under $103 million), will pay upwards of $70 million in luxury taxes this season.

So if the Lakers are willing to pay a little extra, adding LeBron and Carmelo would be entirely possible. The only obstacle would be roster space and that's not going to be an issue with most of the team's contracts expiring at the end of next season (including Kobe's).

The question now turns to whether or not James and Anthony would be willing to leave their current teams to go to Los Angeles.

James has a pretty good thing going in Miami. Championships, warm weather, endorsements deals. But life in Cleveland wasn't so bad either and he couldn't wait to give that up.

LeBron often gets compared to Michael Jordan, but the player he has always more closely resembled is Magic Johnson, arguably the most famous Laker of all-time. James has always had a strong sense of history and he'd understand the significance of playing for an organization that has won 16 championships and produced numerous Hall of Famers.

James still has three years left on his contract but he can opt out after next season, and the consensus around the league is that he will. With Dwyane Wade's knee issues beginning to take their toll and Chris Bosh becoming less and less effective, the championship window in Miami could be closing soon. If championships are what he's after, teaming up with Melo and Kobe in 2014 might be LeBron's best option.

Carmelo will be much harder to pry away from the Knicks. Melo has roots in New York, having spent a decent portion of his childhood living there and has thrived under head coach Mike Woodson.

Certainly, the idea of playing with James, a teammate of Anthony's at the 2012 London Games, would be appealing, but Mike D'Antoni's presence poses another obstacle. Melo didn't mesh well at all with D'Antoni when the two were together in New York and there's little chance he'd leave a city that loves him to play for a coach he doesn't respect.

Of course, D'Antoni's job is far from secure, and if firing him meant the Lakers could sign Anthony, they'd do it in a heartbeat. Plus, as good as the Knicks were last season, they're far from a contender. Unless Amare Stoudemire decides to become a superstar again (which is pretty much impossible because he plays the same position as Anthony), New York will continue to be a notch below the Heat and the Pacers in the Eastern Conference. If Carmelo truly cares about his legacy, forming a big three with James and Bryant in L.A. is something he'd at least have to consider.

The biggest roadblock in the way of this happening might be Kobe Bryant.

While LeBron and many others around the league have made a habit out of playing with their friends, that's never been Kobe's MO. Bryant's ego is famously off-putting, to the point where it's driven away many of his former teammates. Shaquille O'Neal's departure from Los Angeles was mostly fueled by his animosity toward Kobe, and Dwight Howard didn't have a particularly enjoyable experience with Bryant, either.

Kobe was extraordinary last season (27.3 ppg, career-high 6.0 apg) but that was before he suffered a torn Achilles. With Bryant set to turn 35 in August, he's unlikely to be as effective as he was before the injury. If Kobe's game is noticeably diminished post-injury, it could steer James and Anthony away.

Is the idea of Bryant, James and Anthony sharing the same locker room a little bit crazy? Absolutely.

Idealistic? Sure.

But is it possible? Certainly.

And for the Lakers, that faint glimmer of hope is more than enough.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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