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.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.