The Lakers have made little secret of their desire to chase – maybe even two – max free agents next summer. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins could all be available.
Three Two big problems:
The Lakers unloaded Mozgov’s long-term deal on the Nets, but Deng (guaranteed $54 million over the next three years) and Clarkson (guaranteed $37.5 over the next three years) remain as impediments to cap space.
LeBron and Westbrook can each earn 35% of the salary cap. George and Cousins can each earn 30% of the salary cap. So, to lure two of them, the Lakers will need 60%-70% of the cap available.
If the Lakers renounce all their free agents – including Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Julius Randle – and dump Deng, their percentage of the cap available projects to be about 63%.
But that wouldn’t be enough for a max duo that includes LeBron and/or Westbrook. And it’d take a significant sweetener for another team to take Deng.
On the other hand, trading Clarkson would likely be far easier. If the Lakers dump him and stretch Deng, they’d project to have 67% of the cap available. With Ivica Zubac‘s 2018-19 salary unguaranteed and Thomas Bryant‘s behind a team option, that’s within striking distance of 70% – especially considering the exact salary cap won’t be determined until next summer. For now, we’re relying on estimates.
How viable is that path?
Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:
One person within the organization who isn’t permitted to speak publicly on the subject told Bleacher Report the team is confident it can move Clarkson if needed to open space.
The implication seems to be the Lakers believe they could give away Clarkson without attaching a sweetener.
Even next summer, Clarkson will still be owed $12,500,000 and $13,437,500 the following two seasons. That’s a lot in a tighter cap environment.
Clarkson can get to his spots inside the arc, but he doesn’t draw enough fouls or make enough 3-pointers. It’s tough to score efficiently while so reliant on 2-point jumpers. Clarkson is also a poor defender, and he hasn’t maintain the distributing ability he showed as a rookie.
He could rehab his value with a strong season – especially if he plays more point guard, where the Lakers have just Lonzo Ball and Tyler Ennis.
Still, I think the most likely question is: How much must the Lakers attach to Clarkson to dump him? The odds are against them being able to give him away without also surrendering positive assets.
If Clarkson plays well enough that the Lakers must include only moderate assets to dump him and the salary cap lands high enough that unloading Clarkson plus stretching Deng leaves 70% of the cap open, that’d be a massive win for the Lakers.
Then, they “just” have to convince two of LeBron, Westbrook, George and Cousins to come to Los Angeles.