Flexibility, history in L.A.'s favor
Truth be told, both the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have a lot of work to do in order to be thinking about making the playoffs every year, let alone contend for a championship. But there are a couple of ways that the Lakers are already set up to return to glory faster than the Knicks can.
Just as the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and then not much else to hang their hat on in terms of pieces you'd want to be a part of a title team, all the Lakers really can claim as helpful pieces moving forward are Kobe Bryant, an aging vet hell-bent on winning another ring, and Kent Bazemore, the type of young, energy guy who a winning team needs and also someone who can be retained next season at an affordable price.
The biggest advantages that the Lakers have over the Knicks are a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, which figures to land an immediate impact-type player (the Knicks don't have a pick this year), and their books, which are set up to give them the flexibility to start spending money on free agents this summer (the Knicks have virtually all their money locked up until the summer of 2015 when Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani become free agents).
Here's where the work comes in. The Lakers have to make sure their lottery selection pans out, and they have to doubly make sure their money is spent on the right free agents. If their pick flops and they spend buku bucks on a player who doesn't rise to the occasion, all of a sudden the Lakers are the Detroit Pistons of the last five seasons, thrashing in the water, barely able to stay afloat.
But if they draft a budding star, sign the right free agent (hello, Kevin Love) ready to ascend into his prime and have Bryant on their side recruiting his USA Basketball pals (hello, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, etc.) to come join in on the ride, it will be a rapid rise for the Lakers. And let's not forget, L.A. last won it all four years ago in 2010. Not 41 years ago like the Knicks. This town never waits that long for a sequel.
Two words -- Phil Jackson
The answer to this question, in part, lies with each team's management.
And I'm taking Phil Jackson over Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.
I believe Jackson and his 13 rings will have more pull with free agents than Buss and Kupchak.
Sure, the Lakers have a first-round pick in next year's draft and can have significant cap space available, but they also have an unhappy superstar on their hands.
"Oh yeah, let's just play next year and let's just suck again," Bryant said, sarcastically. "No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It's my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. Right? You got to get things done. It's the same thing with the front office."
So there's the divide between Bryant and the front office. And then there's Bryant's health.
The Lakers gave him a two-year, $48 million extension. He's coming off significant leg injuries and hasn't yet shown that he's healthy enough to fulfill a contract that takes up significant cap space.
Given those questions, it seems as if the Knicks are in better long-term shape than the Lake Show.
This summer, thanks to the contracts for Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks will be over the cap and have little flexibility. They don't own a first-round draft pick. So don't expect them to make any noise in 2014-15.
But the Knicks will have plenty to work with in summer 2015.
If they re-sign Anthony this summer, the Knicks can use the lure of playing alongside Anthony and for Jackson as a pitch to free agents. If they don't re-sign him, they can sell free agents on being the No.1 option with the Knicks and playing under Jackson's guidance.
So the choice comes down to Phil Jackson and his 13 rings or an angry, old Kobe and a disconnected Laker team?
Call me crazy, but I'm taking the Knicks.