Report: Lakers apply to exclude Luol Deng’s salary from cap/luxury tax

Former Lakers forward Luol Deng
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The Lakers stretched Luol Deng in 2018 with eyes on landing another star in 2019 to complement LeBron James. Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson all got mentioned.

Whether the move worked out is in the eye of the beholder.

Los Angeles opened an additional $13.81 million of cap space last offseason by stretching Deng.

The Lakers traded for Anthony Davis ($5,693,682 more expensive last season than the players dealt for him). They also signed Danny Green ($14,634,147 starting salary), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($8,089,282), Avery Bradley ($4,767,000), JaVale McGee ($4 million), DeMarcus Cousins ($3.5 million), Quinn Cook ($3 million) and Alex Caruso ($2.75 million).

Obviously, Los Angeles would’ve dealt for Davis – the key complement to LeBron in the championship run – regardless. But who knows which of those signings wouldn’t have occurred sans Deng getting stretched, let alone how much each mattered.

Regardless, the Lakers’ bill now comes due. Rather than just paying Deng’s original contract, which would’ve ended this season, Los Angeles will incur $5 million cap hits each of the next two seasons.

Or not.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Deng will get his remaining money regardless. The only question is whether it counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax for the Lakers.

Deng’s salary could be excluded if a doctor or panel of doctors (selected by the league and union) determine an injury suffered while he was with the Lakers “prevents him from playing skilled professional basketball at an NBA level for the duration of his career.”

The first big question: What injury?

Deng played only one game, the opener, in his last season with the Lakers. But that March, then-Lakers coach Luke Walton said, “He’s still really good at basketball.” Maybe Deng suffered an injury afterward or Walton’s words were untrue. But that statement looks like a major hole in the Lakers’ case that Deng was no longer healthy enough to play NBA-level basketball while with Los Angeles.

Another dent in the Lakers’ case: Deng sacrificed $7,455,933 in a buyout to leave Los Angeles. Maybe he was wrong to do that. He was definitely unhappy by the end of his tenure there. But that doesn’t seem like someone who thought he was finished as an NBA player.

Yet another element for the Lakers to overcome: Deng played 22 games with the Timberwolves the next season. At minimum, that indicates Deng didn’t suffer a career-ending injury with the Lakers. He wasn’t awful in Minnesota. Far from his peak, yes. But he wasn’t out of place on the court, either. He played at an NBA level.

However, those 22 games are not necessarily disqualifying for the Lakers’ application. If the league grants a career-ending injury exclusion THEN the player attempts to come back, he must play 25 games to negate the exclusion. But what if the player plays fewer than 25 games BEFORE the exclusion is decided? I see nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement covering this scenario. Logically, the 25-game test could still apply. But that’s seemingly open to interpretation.

So, Los Angeles’ request looks questionable at best.

But the upside could be significant.

The Lakers projects to land near the hard-cap line ($138,928,000)* next season. They could use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception $9,258,000)* rather than the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,718,000)* only if remaining below the hard cap. Deng’s $5 million cap hit could make the difference.

*Based on the salary cap remaining flat next season

Los Angeles could also easily pay the luxury tax next season and the following season. (Hello, Chris Paul trade.) Removing Deng’s $5 million cap hit would be welcome tax relief.

The Lakers could also open considerable cap space in 2021, even around LeBron and Davis. Dropping Deng’s $5 million cap hit could make the difference in whether a premier free agent joins Los Angeles that offseason.

There’s no harm in the Lakers trying to gain this extra flexibility. But don’t assume they’ll get it.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.