The Lakers have a potential $85 million luxury tax bill looming

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As it stands now (with the roster basically set), the Lakers will have a $99 million payroll — $17 million more than the second most expensive team in the NBA (Brooklyn at $82 million). The Lakers payroll the following season will be in that same ballpark.

I hear the questions from a lot of people outside Los Angeles — didn’t we just have a lockout, didn’t we just miss months of basketball to stop moves like this? We don’t just want a few super teams!

(Actually, ratings say that you do. And NFL-style parity both is impossible in the NBA and probably wouldn’t sell as well anyway, but that’s another discussion for another day.)

The other owners did want to stop this kind of payroll/team building and during the lockout they agreed to stiffer taxes discourage teams from this kind of spending. But those penalties don’t start to kick in until the 2013-14 season — that is when the Lakers will start to pay a stiff price for their payroll.

Cap guru and friend of the site Larry Coon explains it in an email to Henry Abbott at TrueHoop.

The Lakers will have a tax bill of around $30 million next July, and in retrospect, will view this season as their salad days — it’s the last one where the tax rate is dollar-for-dollar. Starting in 2013-14 the new “incremental” tax takes over, where being $30 million above the tax line will mean paying a whopping $85 million tax bill.

And it gets worse. Starting in 2014-15 teams will pay an even higher rate for being repeat offenders — defined as paying tax in at least three of the four previous seasons. A team $30 million over the tax line will pay — brace yourself — an additional $115 million in luxury tax.

After adding up their payroll, luxury tax bill, and revenue sharing contribution (projected to be $49.4 million in 2013-14), even the Lakers have to stop to consider whether this simply can be written off as the cost of doing business — and that’s the future if they’re paying players with salaries like Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Nash.

By the 2014-15 season the Lakers will be able to control their payroll better because Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash come off the books (we will assume Dwight Howard stays at a max deal). For example, Kobe could do what both Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett just did, taking below their market value (salaries below $10 million) to help out the team.

But the Lakers are all in for the next two seasons with the roster they have.  And with luxury tax and revenue sharing in July 2014 they are going to be writing about a $130 million in checks to the league in addition to their $100 million payroll. They can do some things to lower costs (amnesty Metta World Peace, for one) but if they want to compete for a ring those will be small dents. The big-ticket items, topped by Kobe’s $30 million salary, will remain.

Even with what Jack Nicholson pays for his seats and what Time Warner is paying to broadcast Lakers games on a new regional sports network, the Lakers will not be raking in large profits, if any. And remember, the Lakers are the Buss family business, they do not have billions coming in from other sources so that this is a toy. The Lakers need to be profitable.

But they have run the numbers and decided to chase the rings anyway. Which is what the other owners always feared.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.