By: Joe Rudin

On July 1, 2016, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, offered Timofey Mozgov an offer he could not refuse – a 4-year, $64 million contract.

On June 20, 2017, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, decided that Mozgov’s contract was one they could not accept.

Johnson and Pelinka traded Mozgov and his absurd contract, along with D’Angelo Russell and his icy veins, to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for former All-Star Center Brook Lopez and the #27 pick in this year’s draft, which they used to select Kyle Kuzma, a forward out of Utah.

On July 1, 2017, Johnson and Pelinka take the next step toward implementing their vision.

Player Age 2017-18 2018-19
Brook Lopez 28 $22,642,350 $0
Luol Deng 31 $17,190,000 $18,000,000
Jordan Clarkson 24 $11,562,500 $12,500,000
Corey Brewer 30 $7,600,000 $0
Tarik Black 25 $6,655,325 $0
Brandon Ingram 19 $5,519,400 $5,757,120
Lonzo Ball 19 $5,238,800 $6,218,300
Julius Randle 22 $4,149,242 $5,564,134
Larry Nance Jr. 24 $1,471,382 $2,272,391
Ivica Zubac 19 $1,312,611 $1,544,951
David Nwaba 24 $1,312,611 $1,744,951
Kyle Kuzma 21 $1,186,300 $1,408,200
Josh Hart 22 $1,162,100 $1,379,300
Thomas Bryant 19 $815,615* $0
P.J. Dozier 20 $815,615* $0
TOTAL GUARANTEED $80,347,296 $39,505,800
Salary Cap $99,000,000 $102,000,000
Cap Room $18,652,704 $62,494,200**
Red = Team Option Purple = Non-guaranteed Orange = Qualifying Offer Green = Projected
*Bryant & Dozier projected at 0-year minimum salary

**Note: The Lakers will likely exercise their Team Options on Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. for the 2018-19 season. Accounting for that, the cap holds for having fewer than 12 guaranteed players (each empty space, 5 in this case, creates a cap hold equal to a 0-years-of-experience minimum salary), and Julius Randle’s cap hold as a Restricted Free Agent, the real amount of cap room projects to be $37,898,107.

The Lakers currently have about $18.6 million in cap room, with 3 roster spots to fill:

PG: Lonzo Ball / Jordan Clarkson / EMPTY

SG: EMPTY / David Nwaba / Josh Hart

SF: Brandon Ingram / Luol Deng / Corey Brewer

PF: Julius Randle / Larry Nance Jr. / Kyle Kuzma

C: Brook Lopez / Ivica Zubac / EMPTY

The Lakers really only have one rotation spot up for grabs – that starting SG spot – and will be looking to fill the other two spots with injury insurance, veteran leadership, and guys who will compete in practice.

The Lakers can also use 2 Two-Way contracts, which don’t count against the salary cap and allow a player no more than 45 days with their NBA team during the Regular Season. The Lakers use one on 2nd Round pick Thomas Bryant, and the other on P.J. Dozier, who they offered a non-guaranteed contract on draft night.

The Lakers will likely only offer 1-year contracts to prospective Free Agents. These contracts might have 2nd-year Team Options attached to them, but since the Lakers will be treating their cap space as “sacred,” they will almost certainly be committing to only 1 year of guaranteed money.

The Lakers also have some Exceptions at their disposal, namely the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception and the Bi-Annual Exception, which will allow them to go over the Salary cap if they choose to use them. However, since they probably won’t be going over the cap by signing contracts that are more than a minimum salary, they won’t need a special exception for minimum contracts.

What the Lakers Can Do

Option #1: The Lakers offer all their cap space on a 1+1 deal to whomever they think is the best Unrestricted Free Agent 2-guard out there.

  • If they get their target, they’re done! That’s it! The other two spots will remain open for competition through Summer League and training camp.
  • If they don’t get their target, move to step 2

Option #2: The Lakers guarantee Tarik Black’s $6,655,325 by July 4th and offer the remainder of their cap space to whomever they think is the best 2-guard out there. That leaves the 3rd string PG spot open, which again will remain open through Summer League and training camp.

A couple of notes:

  • The Lakers can offer all their cap space to one player because the remaining spots will almost certainly be filled by players on minimum contracts; it is always permitted to sign players to minimum deals, no matter how far above the Salary Cap a team is.
  • The Lakers should be smart, though, and not use ALL of their cap space; flexibility is key and a little cap space could go a long way when it comes to a mid-season trade
  • The Lakers could use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to fill the 3rd string spots with above-minimum contracts if they need to. They can use up to $8,406,000 in this way.

Some players they can target are: JJ Redick, Patty Mills, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Jodie Meeks

Joe Ingles and Otto Porter would be great fits, but they’re both Restricted Free Agents, so you can’t offer them deals that only have 1 year guaranteed (unless their teams decide not to extend a Qualifying Offer, thereby making them Unrestricted Free Agents).

The Free Agent market for shooting guards is pretty bleak this year. And as Pete Zayas and Darius Soriano mentioned on the latest episode of the Laker Film Room Podcast, it’s highly unlikely that the Lakers will be able to find someone who is both 1) capable of significantly helping the Lakers win games and 2) willing to take only 1 year of guaranteed money. To really get a worthwhile Free Agent, the Lakers will have to offer far more money in that one guaranteed year than what is available to them in each year of a multi-year deal elsewhere.

This is why the Lakers should explore their trade options, where they don’t have to convince a quality player to take a 1-year deal, since they’re already on one.

Here are some players whose contracts can or will expire after the 2017-18 season that the Lakers might target, listed in order of 2017-18 salary:

Player Age 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Dwyane Wade 29 $23,200,000 $23,800,000 $0
Arron Afflalo 31 $12,500,000 $12,500,000 $0
Danny Green 29 $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $10,000,000
Cory Joseph 25 $7,330,000 $7,660,000 $7,945,000
Trevor Ariza 31 $7,806,971 $7,420,912 $0
Devin Harris 34 $4,228,000 $4,403,000 $0
Seth Curry 26 $2,898,000 $3,028,410 $0
Doug McDermott 25 $2,483,040 $3,294,994 $4,510,847

*Blue = Player Option                                             **Green = Qualifying Offer

There’s no clear home run here, either. Danny Green would be a great fit, but his $10 Million player option in 2018-19 could be detrimental to the Lakers’ 2018 Free Agency plans. Cory Joseph has a similarly problematic Player Option for 2018-19 as well.

The drawback of a trade, of course, is that you have to give up assets in the process. But if the Lakers are already planning to give up assets next summer in order to make room for 2 max-salary Free Agents (they’ll have to give up something), it makes sense to use those assets to acquire a high-quality starting 2-guard for this year.

Given that the Lakers only have one significant roster spot to fill and need to preserve their cap space for next summer, they will most likely sign one player to a 1-year deal and sit the rest of Free Agency out.  They may try to execute a trade, but it will take good timing and a willing partner to do so. The real fireworks will happen at this time next year.