By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Los Angeles Lakers continue to operate with the belief that LeBron James and/or Carmelo Anthony could don the purple-and-gold next season.
Despite the optimism out of Miami brought about by Saturday’s news that Dwyane Wade and (possibly) Chris Bosh are joining James in opting out of the final two years of their contracts, seemingly for the purpose of re-signing with the Heat at lower annual salaries, the Lakers wishfully continued to clear cap space.
According to a source, the Lakers chose not to make a qualifying offer to athletic, 6-foot-5 shooting guard Kent Bazemore, the player L.A. acquired last season from Golden State for Steve Blake.
The reason for not extending the $1.1 million qualifying offer to Bazemore, who averaged 13.1 points and 3.1 assists in 23 games with L.A., was to continue to carve as much cap space as possible to make a run at both James and Anthony, who has already informed the New York Knicks that he will become a free agent.
Free agency begins Tuesday. The Lakers have only three players under contract for next season: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Robert Sacre, plus a team option to bring back Kendall Marshall.
During the NBA Finals, in which the San Antonio Spurs whipped the Heat in five games, motivating Miami to re-tool its roster — which would first require James, Wade and Bosh to opt out to create needed cap space — USA Today reported that the Lakers were deliberately holding off on hiring a coach until they entered the free agency period with hopes of convincing at least one superstar, if not both, to join the team.
Whatever chance exists for the Lakers to land James would appear to be diminishing. Also on Saturday, Heat forward Udonis Haslem decided to not opt into the final year of his contract at $4.6 million. Haslem, whom Wade and James wanted on the club when they signed in 2010, played in just 46 games during the regular season and had only a limited role in the postseason.
Haslem’s guaranteed salary for next season is far higher than he would garner on the open market, suggesting a plan is in place for he, James, Wade and Bosh to return to Miami for lower annual salaries over a longer term.
As for Anthony’s services next season, the Lakers are in competition with the Knicks, who can pay Anthony the most money, the Chicago Bulls, who might be the best fit, the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.