With Kobe staying as highest-paid player in NBA, the Lakers can rebuild but it’s not easy

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Kobe Bryant has signed a contract extension and is staying on with the Lakers for two more seasons. That news made Lakers nation happy — go to a Lakers game and you see the flood of 24 jerseys in the crowd — you quickly realize why the Lakers could not let him go at any cost. He fills the luxury boxes, he draws the sponsors, he is worth a lot to them financially. More than they can pay him.

But they are still paying him a lot.

ESPN reports the deal is for two years at $48.5 million — Kobe Bryant will remain the highest paid player in the NBA.

For a team that has sold its fan base on making moves with a lot of cap space this summer to again contend, this throws a little kink in the plan. A big kink. Maybe a crippling kink.

The Lakers will still have money to go after a max free agent (if they can recruit one, that’s another issue) but after that they wouldn’t have a lot left. Especially since they do not want to go over the luxury tax line next year, they want to get away from the repeater tax.

That is not going to make the Lakers a contender. The contract holds them back (remember Tim Duncan scaled back to $11 million, Kevin Garnett about the same).

The Lakers still should have about $22 million in cap space next summer, reports Larry Coon at his NBA CBAFAQ. (Ed. note: These numbers are updated from the original version of this post.) In case you’re curious, is more than LeBron James will get but less than Carmelo Anthony’s max ($23 million). Not that either of them are likely to leave their current settings ( you never know, but don’t bet on it). The Lakers will be in the market for second tier guys — Luol Deng, Zach Randolph, Danny Granger and others.

The salary cap next summer is projected to be $62.9 million. The Lakers will also have their own first round draft pick. Based on their current record, this pick would fall around #15, and would therefore count around $1.5 million against their cap.This would give them a total of about $37.66 million for six players. We need to add another six cap holds totaling $3,04 million, which brings the total to about $40,70 million.

With this team salary, the Lakers would have about $22.2 million in cap room next summer.

However, the situation gets even more complex for the Lakers.

The Lakers process has to start with a clear plan for  what kind of team they are building — if they are keeping Mike D’Antoni around as coach they can’t just go get anyone (particularly Carmelo Anthony), they need to get specific players that fit his system and what he wants to do.

The Lakers go into next season with three contracts on the books — Kobe at $23.5 million, Steve Nash with $9.7 million (with what he is saying I don’t expect he will retire), Robert Sacre at $915,243 (Elias Harris has a non-guaranteed deal, we will assume he is gone). They will have a roughly $1.5 million slot for their first-round draft pick this year. In theory 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. The Lakers have a player option on Ryan Kelly at $1 million they may pick up. The Lakers also likely would want to keep Jordan Hill around, but he is an unrestricted free agent playing his way into a bigger payday than the $3.5 million he made this year.

Then there are the cap holds — placeholders against what the Lakers can spend based on them keeping their own free agents. Pau Gasol is at $20 million, Steve Blake at $7.6 million and it goes on down the list through Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks and others.

To have their max money to go after free agents the Lakers have to renounce their rights to all of those guys – plus Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and others playing well in their roles — and let them be free agents. Only then do they have the empty roster and cap space. Or they could re-sign those guys and cut into the $20 million.

Which is to say, the Lakers can’t just test the market and expect Gasol to be there as a fallback in case their dalliance with others doesn’t work out.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has said before rebuilding is a multi-year process for the Lakers — they are not going to check everything off the box this summer.

But if they are going to get Kobe Bryant the ring No. 6 he so desperately wants they only have a couple of years now as a window. And it’s not going to be easy to get those guys. Not with Kobe’s salary on the books.

Report: Heat, Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets still looking to add Jimmy Butler

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Trade talks for Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler have apparently gone dormant. Things fell through with the most likely deal between the Wolves and the Miami Heat earlier in October, and now we are in sort of a weird limbo state where Butler is still playing for Minnesota.

The season has started, the Timberwolves have new jerseys, but everyone knows what is coming.

It certainly doesn’t mean that interest in Butler’s services have waned. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, four teams still have adding Butler at the top of their list.

Windhorst appeared on Alex Kennedy’s podcast this weekend and said that the Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, and Houston Rockets are still gunning for Butler.

Via Twitter:

Windhorst gave a caveat for both Dallas and the Clippers, who have the ability to sign Butler this offseason through free agency. That makes a trade between the Timberwolves and those teams less likely, especially because Minnesota’s asking price for Butler apparently keeps going up (rather than down) as time goes on.

No doubt this saga will continue for some time until Butler eventually gets traded to somewhere strange, like the Milwaukee Bucks.

Much like the Kawhi Leonard situation last season in San Antonio, we could be waiting all season for something to happen on the Butler front.

Prince-themed Timberwolves jerseys leaked

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Things aren’t pretty with the Minnesota Timberwolves right now. The team is still trying to figure out what to do with Jimmy Butler, and a willing trade partner doesn’t seem available at the moment.

But that doesn’t mean that the Timberwolves can’t still look good.

On Tuesday, some of Minnesota’s alternate uniforms for this season leaked on Reddit. They of course made their way to Twitter, and they have a very specific theme: “Purple Rain”.

Via Twitter:

The jerseys are of course based on Prince’s iconic 1984 album/film combo. Prince, a Minneapolis native, passed away in 2016.

Meanwhile the Wolves may be bad, but at least their uniforms will rock.

Ben Simmons out for 76ers against Pistons with back tightness

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DETROIT (AP) — Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons is out Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons because of back tightness.

76ers coach Brett Brown says Simmons is questionable for Wednesday at Milwaukee after he left Saturday’s game in the first quarter against Orlando and did not return. Brown says Simmons wasn’t fully comfortable and that resting him Tuesday boosted the chances he could play Wednesday.

Simmons, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, was averaging 16.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 9.5 assists in the first two games before playing just eight minutes Saturday.

 

Indiana museum to tell story of basketball great Larry Bird

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — A museum is being planned to tell the story of basketball great Larry Bird, an Indiana native.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Saturday that the museum will be located in a new convention center that’s being built in Terre Haute in western Indiana. The Tribune-Star reports Bird plans to donate personal items and memorabilia from his career with the Boston Celtics, Indiana State University, the U.S. Olympic team and beyond.

Holcomb predicts the museum will be a global draw, describing Bird as “Larry the Legend – Indiana’s favorite son.”

Details about the museum are still being developed, but plans include interactive displays to detail Bird’s life and career. He won three NBA championships with the Celtics.

Construction on the convention center is expected to start in the spring.