LOS ANGELES: The courting of coveted NBA free agent Carmelo Anthony was in high gear Thursday, with superstar Kobe Bryant reportedly breaking a European vacation to help the Los Angeles Lakers woo him.
Anthony, a seven-time NBA All-Star, opted out of the final season of his New York Knicks contract in June in order to test the free agent market.
Anthony has already met with the Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets in a whirlwind tour since free agent negotiations opened on Tuesday.
The Bulls rolled out the red carpet, and Anthony’s arrival at their arena — where he strolled past the statue of Michael Jordan — was caught by a throng of local television cameras.
Signs in the arena showed Anthony in a number seven Bulls jersey — a device the Rockets also used in Houston even though point guard Jeremy Lin already wears number seven and is under contract to the Rockets for one more season.
But any club with hopes of landing Anthony must be aware that the Knicks will be keen to try to keep him.
Anthony can make $129.1 million over five years with the Knicks. Any other team that tries to sign him can offer him a maximum of four years and $95.9 million.
The New York Post reported that Knicks president Phil Jackson has scheduled a meeting with Anthony in Los Angeles on Thursday evening — after Anthony has had a chance to hear the Lakers’ pitch.
ESPN.com reported that Bryant was flying in for the Lakers’ meeting, although the Los Angeles Times said it was unclear if he would make it.
The two are old friends and won Olympic gold playing together for the United States in 2008 and 2012.
The team that lands Anthony will gain a prolific scorer. He averaged 27.4 points, a career-best 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists over 77 games in 2013-14, finishing second to league Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant in the scoring race.
In three-plus seasons since arriving in New York, Anthony has averaged 26.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists, but the rebuilding Knicks missed the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Lakers were trying to sell Anthony on the idea of playing alongside Bryant and Spain’s Pau Gasol — who has also become a free agent but is thought to be ready to stay with the Lakers if they land Anthony.