The Los Angeles Lakers will open free agency with more than $32 million in cap room — enough to sign Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, or other players to a max level contract — thanks to a couple of moves made Thursday.
Whether they should chase that max player or spread the money around to get two or three good role players — Danny Green, J.J. Redick, Bojan Bogdanovic, Trevor Ariza, others of that ilk — is another question entirely. What matters is the Lakers will have the money to spend.
It took two moves to get there (and technically it will not get there until July 6 when a series of moves can be made). First, the Lakers are trading the three smaller salaries on their books next season to the Washington Wizards, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
The Wizards were higher on Wagner than most at the draft, this lands them a guy the organization likes.
The other Laker move, getting Anthony Davis to agree to waive his $4 million trade kicker (something there was push back on when it was first mentioned).
That gives the Lakers the cap room they need to chase a max contract star. Give Laker GM Rob Pelinka credit for pulling this off, he has gotten his team into position.
Kawhi Leonard is on the top of their list, and the Lakers are expected to get a meeting with him at the start of free agency. They have their foot in the door, but I have heard from multiple sources going back to last summer he is not interested in joining a superteam or being part of the circus that can be the Lakers in a very bright spotlight.
Los Angeles has been linked to Kyrie Irving, although most reports now have him locked in on going to Brooklyn, likely with Kevin Durant. LeBron and Irving have patched up their differences, although league sources have told me that’s different from saying Irving wants to play with LeBron again. On the court, he would be the best fit in terms of style with LeBron and Davis.
Los Angeles also has the money to get Kemba Walker (who league buzz says is a lock for Boston unless Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan significantly ups his offer), Jimmy Butler (Philadelphia wants to max him out with five years, $191 million, but Houston is making a hard push for him via a sign-and-trade), or bringing back D'Angelo Russell, who will have a number of suitors and the Nets can match any offer (if they don’t get Irving Brooklyn likely keeps Russell).
If the Lakers land any of those stars, the rest of the roster will be filled out with players on minimum contracts such as J.R. Smith (once Cleveland waives him), Kyle Korver, Nerlens Noel, and others. Those players are taking minimum contracts for a reason, but with the stars that may be enough to make the Lakers a threat.
However, after watching a finals where role players were critical for Toronto to win it all — or thinking back to the Shaq/Kobe Lakers were players such as Robert Horry and Derek Fisher were essential to the team’s success — the Lakers may well be better off landing role players who can just defend and shoot. Los Angeles will need those guys to contend in a West where the Warriors may be slowed but teams such as Houston, Utah, and Denver will make it a tough road out of the conference no matter what.