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.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.