While fans (and a lot of front office executives) around the league have enjoyed the Lakers stumbles last season, we all know the plan. And it’s a very feasible one.
The Lakers will muddle through this season then rebuild on the fly through free agency in the summer of 2014 when virtually everybody comes off the books. They can attack free agency hard and sign a couple max players. They have reportedly targeted LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Except, the Lakers don’t have quite as much cap space as everyone thinks. Depending on what they do it could be more like $36 million.
The fantastic Jared Dubin had some fun with this at Grantland. For this post, I’m going to take what I think is the most logical scenario and talk cap space from there, using Dubin’s numbers, that includes the Larry Coon (ESPN’s cap guy) projection of a $62 million salary cap next summer.
The Lakers go into next summer with two contracts on the books — Steve Nash with $9.7 million and Robert Sacre at $915,243. Also, Nick Young could stick around as he has a $1.2 million option, but it is more likely he opts out to try and find a longer deal. So we’ll leave Young out of this.
But the Lakers don’t just have the difference between the $10.6 in guaranteed salary and the $62 million to spend.
Meet the cap hold — a placeholder salary that counts against what you can spend based on the value of what you could pay your free agents to come back (also that could include holds for draft picks and minimum contract players yet to be named to get you to a dozen roster spots). In the Lakers case there are cap holds for Kobe Bryant (almost $32 million), Pau Gasol ($20 million), Steve Blake ($7.6 million) and on down the line. With all their cap holds in place the Lakers are at $86 million, way over the cap and luxury tax line, they couldn’t sign anybody.
Most likely the Lakers will trade Gasol during the season or, when the time, comes, the Lakers will renounce their rights to every free agent on their roster not named Kobe. They will create cap space because when they renounce Gasol or anyone else he gets replaced by a $507,336 minimum salary hold. There also will be a salary hold for the Lakers first round pick next summer, the size of which depends on the draft spot but likely is upwards of $1 million, close to $1.5 million.
In Kobe’s case, I expect the Lakers will re-sign him to a discounted deal, much as Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett did for their teams. While Kobe has said he doesn’t want a pay cut, I think that was negotiations and he’ll return for around $10 million.
So where does that leave the Lakers: Kobe at $10 million, Nash at $9.7 million, a draft pick around $1 million, Sacre at $915,243, and eight minimum salary cap holds, your grand total is around $26 million on the books.
Which leaves the Lakers around $36 million in cap space in the summer of 2014.
LeBron’s max is going to be about $20 million for the first year, ‘Melo’s is more like $23. The Lakers can’t swing them both at the max (and have fun trying to convince ‘Melo to take a pay cut). As I have said before, I doubt LeBron or Anthony bolt their respective teams, but consider that a fun exercise in the limits of what the Lakers can do. Remember, the Lakers want to be under the tax threshold line in the 2014-15 season to avoid the repeater tax.
Things could be different — the Lakers could waive Nash and use the stretch provision, for one, to get even more cap space. The Lakers could make a mid-season trade for star under contract (using Gasol and pieces as the bait) and have even less room. There are endless scenarios.
Most observers around the league expect the Lakers to bounce back fast — players want to be in Los Angeles and play for a storied franchise. But the new CBA makes the Lakers style of reloading far more difficult; they are going to have to get some players to come to them at a discount.
The goal of the new CBA was to make it hard and expensive on teams used to just spending to get what they want. The Lakers are a great example of how that is going to work.