There weren’t many fun moments for the Lakers last season, but Carmelo Anthony was at the center many of them. The circling of one another between player and franchise finally ended in Melo donning the purple and gold this season and quickly morphing into Staples Melo.
Entering free agency again this summer, one side is eyeing the potential of running it back.
But the Lakers’ offseason itself won’t really begin until they find a new head coach. And after dropping the ball during the last search when it came to Ty Lue, the team is aware of the backlash that has caused.
Both matters are the subjects of the latest reports and rumors surrounding the Lakers.
Lakers return is top option for Carmelo Anthony, but free agency is “wide-open” after that
From the moment Melo stepped onto the court at Staples Center/Crypto.com Arena, he was a fan favorite. Despite never having previously played for the franchise and really having no ties to the team or city, Melo was embraced by the fans from day one.
It led to many memorable moments in Staples, and the creation of Staples Melo itself, perhaps his second-best variation behind only Hoodie Melo, though Olympic Melo is in the running as well.
While the season ended on a low note for Melo as his tank hit empty well before the end of the regular season, a return to Los Angeles reportedly is the top priority for him. Longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney wrote for Heavy that running it back with the Lakers is Melo’s preferred option and anything after that is anyone’s guess.
“There is a comfort level with living in L.A. and playing there,” one NBA source said. “The starting point on him coming back and not retiring is signing on with the Lakers and hoping that they fix the roster and the coaching situation. But it’s wide-open.”
Anthony could slide to the other locker room at Crypto.com Arena and suit up with former Thunder teammate and friend Paul George with the Clippers, especially if he thinks that team is championship-ready. But the prevailing thought is that if Anthony is in Los Angeles, it will be with the purple-and-gold.
Overall, it was a successful year for Melo in a role he could thrive in moving forward. When the Lakers were healthy — a rarity this year — Melo’s ability to be a knockdown spot-up shooter was valuable to the Lakers. Playing alongside Anthony Davis also allowed him to be a bit more hidden defensively.
Anthony and Davis this season were effectively a net neutral together, finishing with a net rating of -0.7 in 546 minutes. Add LeBron James to the mix and it’s a net rating of 2.3 in 119 minutes. Adding Westbrook skyrockets the rating to 14.3 in 63 minutes.
As much as you can see the net ratings change, you can also see the minutes decrease with each pairing. There’s a pretty clear argument to be made to bring back Melo and there could be mutual interest from the Lakers in returning.
Much of the final decision-making on those lineups will come from the next head coach, and speaking of that...
The Lakers know their last coaching search pissed off fans (and other coaches)
Last time the Lakers searched for a head coach, their three targets all ended up being hits. Monty Williams was the first, but he chose Phoenix over LA. Ty Lue was the second, but the Lakers bungled that situation entirely — hold that thought — and Frank Vogel became the third option, a coach who eventually led them to a title.
It was the Lue mishandling, though, that has left a lasting impression. By not wanting to commit to him beyond the length of LeBron’s contract at the time, the Lakers insulted Lue, which led to him spurning the Lakers and heading across town to the Clippers. Fans — and Lue himself — have certainly not forgotten how poorly handled it all was, and it’s the background noise over this current head coaching search.
However, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic in a recent mailbag piece, the Lakers have some level of self-awareness on the matter. When asked how the team would approach a contract with another next head coach, Buha had the following to say (emphasis mine):
I think it depends on the coaching candidate. The Lakers are aware their last coaching pursuit prompted backlash — from both the fan base and around the league — and I think they’re going to do their best to not repeat the same mistakes. They need to come correct with years and money.
The mistake in the last search was only offering Lue a three-year deal when standard coaching contracts are between four and five years. Whether it was an example of the Lakers wildly misplaying their hand or not having a read on the market is unclear, but not particularly encouraging either way.
In the aftermath of how Vogel’s tenure ended, the Lakers have absolutely no goodwill amongst fans or even fellow coaches. As Buha says, the organization is going to have to come correct this time around.