Lakers will not have quite as much 2014 cap space as some think

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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.

Warriors say Kevin Durant doing non-contact drills, could return before end of season

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Kevin Durant has been working out on the court before the last couple of Warriors road games, and people watching have taken note — he was moving well, shooting, and generally looking healthy for a guy coming off a grade 2 MCL sprain and a bone bruise.

Reports were out that Durant was on target to return before the end of the season.

Wednesday the Warriors confirmed that.

Teams are vague, realistically what is that timeline?

Durant likely would be on a minutes restriction for those game, but just getting to shake the rust off and work on his conditioning in a real game would help Golden State heading into the playoffs.

Not that they need much help, having won eight in a row. The Warriors have a 2.5 game lead over the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the game between the two Wednesday night.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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