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Five Questions About the Abandoned Carmelo-Lakers Union

As L.A. falls out of the postseason hunt, the team is “pausing” talks on signing Anthony. But if Melo could help, why not sign him right away? We have some questions.

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Hoodies up: Carmelo Anthony will not be joining the Lakers. After more than a month of rumors, talks between Anthony, who was waived by the Bulls on February 1, and the Lakers are officially “pausing,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday. L.A. won’t pursue Melo unless the team “makes a turn back toward pursuit of Western Conference playoff contention,” believing it isn’t productive to bring Anthony onto a team bound to miss the postseason. This is the time for young players to get experience, and the Lakers have many inexperienced young players. There was always a question of what Anthony, who played 10 games with the Rockets this season before the franchise pulled the plug, could’ve added to a playoff team. Now it’ll be one of the season’s great mysteries, along with L.A.’s other what-ifs, like Paul George and Anthony Davis.

Except LeBron James would sooner give up rapping in the car on Instagram than miss the postseason. So why not enlist his buddy’s help, if the Lakers believe he could make a difference? Why draw out the process for this long only to not sign Anthony? There’s something unusual about the timing and the reasoning of this non-signing. Let’s investigate:

Can we go over some phrasing?

The Lakers and free agent Carmelo Anthony are pausing talks on a possible contract agreement ...

Pausing. There are 19 games left in the regular season. Say the Lakers win their next five—they’d still be far from a playoff lock. The Lakers are 30-33 and in the 10th spot in the Western Conference standings, 4.5 games back from the eighth seed. They have the seventh-toughest schedule going forward, while the three teams in their way—the Clippers, Spurs, and Kings—all face schedules that are easier than average. Incorporating Anthony now would be an adjustment for the offense, let alone 10 games from now. So is “pausing” just a delicate way of saying that the team has called off the signing completely? Could this be an indication that Anthony will sign with the franchise this summer, and simply did not want to lose in the meantime? Is “pausing talks” the new “let’s go on a break”? Did Woj just innovate the language we use to dump people?

… unless the franchise makes a turn back toward pursuit of Western Conference playoffs contention.

The odds are slim—FiveThirtyEight gives the Lakers a 7 percent chance of making the postseason—but L.A. is still going for it. Because what else do you do when you have LeBron James?

So should the Lakers be tanking now?

On the one hand, they did just lose to the Suns. On the other, it’s highly doubtful they’d throw in the towel at this point. If the standings hold, this will be the first time LeBron has missed the playoffs since the 2004-05 season, his second in the league. There’s too much of his reputation at stake to throw away a shot at a postseason berth. Also, Anthony averaged 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and half an assist during his 10 games with the Rockets; he rarely made it to the line, and he shot 3s poorly. If the franchise were tanking, it’d want Melo in purple and gold.

OK, but if the Lakers believed Anthony could be helpful, why didn’t they sign him immediately?

L.A. was waiting to see all the possible candidates for its open roster spot, which the team cleared on February 7 by trading Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac to the Clippers for Mike Muscala. Friday was the last possible day players could be waived and still remain eligible to compete in the postseason. It’s possible Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka expected to be in contention at this point and intended to sign Anthony if no one better was bought out, but the Lakers’ recent slide threw a wrench into their plans.

Is it too late now to sign Anthony?

Technically, it’s not. The roster spot the Lakers cleared at the deadline remains open … and not utilizing that spot would be yet another flustering humiliation for Pelinka and Magic. (Signings: Not really the Lakers’ strong spot this season! Or last summer! With one notable exception!) They’re reportedly interested in signing a center. The market is limited, though Greg Monroe and Marcin Gortat are available. If the Lakers front office (or just James) believes Anthony could be helpful, they should sign him. But he’s been subjected to quite a bit of embarrassment over the past two seasons, as has James this season, and my guess is they both decided the cons of potential memes outweighed the pros.

Does anyone else need Melo?

I know a guy who could use a 15-plus-year vet: