Pau Gasol is still a Los Angeles Laker. He and his $19.3 million salary.
He could have been moved at the trade deadline but the Lakers wanted assets back for the Spanish star. For example, talks with the Phoenix Suns fell apart when the Lakers wanted one of the top two of the four first round picks the Suns have in the 2014 draft. Some teams though the Lakers should have sent them a pick for saving them all that cash.
That’s not how the Lakers view the world — the money is less of an issue for them than just about any team in the league. Look at what Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.
“The organization is not motivated by saving ‘X’ amount of dollars,” Kupchak said. “We were more concerned with making a basketball deal.”
“I think the expression would be a ‘salary dump.’ That’s not what this organization will do. If we could get picks or players that we felt good about going forward, then we would have done that. But we had opportunities to go below the threshold and we wouldn’t do it.”
The Lakers did save themselves some money at the trade deadline but they are going to end the season about $5.8 million over the luxury tax line, which will cost them about $8.9 million. For a middle or small market team that is a huge chunk of change, for the Lakers and their $250 million a year cable television deal, it’s spare change. It’s that $20 you find in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn since last winter.
Besides, with every salary except Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre coming off the books next season (we all know Nick Young is opting out) the Lakers will be under the tax line next season and likely the next few. Those two seasons below the number re-set them against the repeater tax.
The new CBA has done a lot to level the playing field of the NBA — if you want to spend like the Brooklyn Nets you can but the tools you have to bring in players become limited (smaller mid-level exception, no sign-and-trades to add salary). However, there is never going to be a magical formula that completely levels the playing field between Los Angeles and Memphis, or New York and Oklahoma City. Those smaller markets can certainly build winning teams and successful organization, but the revenue issue is something no CBA could address (or at least not one the players and owners would sign off on).
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.