GM Hat: Lakeshow

Much is being made over the “predicament” the Lakers find themselves in, regarding how they will construct a team around LeBron James, and the newly acquired Anthony Davis (EDIT: Not anymore !). Thanks to an “accounting error” made by the front office, the Lakers now find themselves in a cap space bind. They now find themselves with only $27 million dollars (approx.) in cap space, and that number falls down to $23 million dollars (approx.) if Davis chooses to exercise his trade kicker (according to reports it appears that will be the case.) (EDIT: Not so fast my friend! ). I think a lot of the reporting, both on the major networks and online has been pretty shoddy about this because it ignores some key points:

  1. Hindsight is always 20:20 … Those saying the Lakers should have waited until AFTER they signed a free agent to trade for AD are ignoring that the Pelicans could have traded him to another team at any time. Risking having Davis, just to have the CHANCE to add a 3rd star via FA is putting the cart miles and miles ahead of the horse. Davis is much better than any realistic free agent the Lakers could acquire. Now, after the fact, it seems like a foregone conclusion that AD would become a Laker, but the Celtics and Knicks could have foiled that plan at any time.
  2. The Lakers technically can still use their cap space to sign a max FA before acquring AD. July 6th is the first day the trades can be completed in the new NBA league year AND it is the first day that free agents can sign with new/current teams. The trick here is the Lakers have to convince one of the marquee MAX free agents to sign with them between June 30 and July 5. Then they would need to sign that player and THEN complete the agreed-upon trade for AD using the 125% trade rule. (I ran the numbers, they are good). The first part of that process may prove difficult to accomplish, with said players taking multiple visits and needing time to process their decision. So not impossible, but unlikely.
  3. If AD waives his trade kicker and the Lakers were able to move Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner and Jermerrio Jones, they would have about 30 million dollars in cap space. While not the 32.7 million dollar max slot, they could offer 4 years and about 132 million, which is just shy of the 140 million other non-Bird right teams could offer (Bird-right teams can offer an extra year and 50 million dollars, or another year and 80 million dollars with the super-max eligible players). EDIT: This just happened lol
  4. All of the scenarios with the cap are based on it being at the projected 109 million. If it comes in at 111 or 112 million, then in scenario 3, the Lakers would be at a max slot (or very, very close to it).

So there are 3 basic scenarios the Lakers have:

Scenario 1: Maximize the Window – give the Lakers a deep and versatile team capable of playing multiple styles and fully augmenting LeBron’s capabailities as he heads into the twilight of his career. How ? Well follow along with me …

The Lakers books currently look like this (shoutout to Spotrac.com):

That comes out to about $71.4 mil + the $8.1 mil roster charge the Lakers have for 9 unfilled roster spots (you have an approx 900k cap hold for every spot under 12 on your roster). With an $79.5 mil cap hit and a projected 109 million cap, that gives the Lakers $29.5 mil of cap space. I keep hearing people say 32 million and I’m not sure exactly where that number is coming from … Could be a cap rule/tweak that I’m not aware of … But 29.5 million is more than enough …. (Just mentally add another 2.5 million once the books come out and the Lakers are sitting with 32.)

The first order of business would be to go and get a starting PG. Playing on this roster, you will need a PG with a particular set of skills. Because of LeBron James, playmaking is less of a premium from your PG, but 3 point shooting and defense are critical. Your PG should still be a capable secondary or tertiary playmaker, so Bron does not have to create everythng for everyone, but the first two skills are paramount. Two PGs who fit this cleanly are Patrick Beverly and Darren Collison. While Beverly is already in LA as a member of the Clippers, I get the notion that he is going to be pursued stongly by the Mavericks, and there are reports that they see each other as a perfect match (he can play off Luka in a similar manner). I see Collison as an even better fit. They are similar in their defensive acumen, but Collison is a superior 3 point shooter and playmaker. He’s shot over 40% from 3 in multiple seasons, and has averaged in the 5-6 assts range comfortably. What’s more is that Collison is an LA kid, who went to UCLA, and I could see him returning home to help win a title. We offer Collison a 3 year deal worth $31.5 million. Why ? This is slightly more than teams offering the Mid-Level Exception can offer. They can only do 3 year deals starting at 9.2 million which come out to 3 years and 29 million. I think that exception will be the top of his market and so offering a deal slightly higher than this will secure him. We may have some competition from Indiana but rumor is they are targeting Ricky Rubio, and after flirting with getting Mike Conley + wanting to increase miutes for last year’s first round pick Aaron Holiday (Rubio’s size allows them to play together) , I think they will be content to let Collison move on. Start him at 10 million dollars with the CBA prescribed 5% raises and you get your 3 year $30 million dollar deal.

$29.5 million dollars – $10 million dollars + 900k for freed up roster spot cap hold = $20.4 million dollars left.

Now to shore up the backcourt. Well, thanks to a shrewd move last trade deadline, the Lakers already have a SG on the roster that is a solid defender and knocks down 3 pointers at a high clip. Reggie Bullock was second in the NBA in 3 point shooing in 2017-2018, and that kind of shooting is invaluable in the construction of this roster. Furthermore, because the Lakers own Bullock’s bird rights, that gives them even more flexibility in the construction of the roster. They can agree to a contract with him and not have to actually sign the contract until they sign everyone else, and go over the cap to do so. Thus, even if he signs for much more than that, he will only count his cap hold (4.75 million) while the Lakers are putting things together. In order to maximize the Lakers cap flexibility + I’m going to have the Lakers sign him to a 4 year deal worth 42.1 million dollars, with de-escalating salaries (8% since he is a Bird year player), and a mutual team/player option for that 4th year. So he gets a first year salary of 12 million, second year salary of 11.04 million, a third year salary of 10.08 million, and the option year salary of $9.02 million. That way, the Lakers can get out of the deal if the Bron era is done and they begin rebuilding around AD, and Bullock can hit the market at 31 for his last big deal if he flourishes.

20.4 million dollars left – 4.75 million dollars + 900k for freed up roster spot = 16.55 million dollars left.

Now with your starting backcourt set, lets look to shore up the front court. While Kuzma is a young ascending player, I view him more as a super 6th man, than a great starting fit next to AD and LeBron. I actually think that eventualy, the Lakers will need to trade him to get a more complementary piece for AD, but for now, his contract provides great value. You could go a couple of ways here. The better way would be to go get a SF that could start and finish games. This would allow to Bron and AD to play the 4 and the 5 respectively, which are their true positions in the modern NBA. However, both would rather play the 3 and 4, at least to begin games, and so it makes sense if you decide to target a 5 man. And there is just the big man, who is looking to make a return to Los Angeles: DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is similar to Collison in that his value is likely going to top out at the MLE. The Spurs seem like a team that might be a natural fit, or the Celtics if they miss out on Kemba Walker and decide to pair DJ with a re-signed Terry Rozier, but I think the Lakers have to be the team to beat. 3 years, $31.5 million (perhaps with an opt-out after year 1 or 2 to let DJ get some more money) seems logical.

$16.55 million – $10 million = 6.55 million + 900k for freed up roster spot = $7.45 million left in cap space.

With that last 7.5 million, the Lakers would want to target a player who can play the swing man spots. there are several options. They could perhaps grab Trevor Ariza for a one year option, or look to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for this amount. If Avery Bradley is cut by the Grizzlies, he also makes quite a lot of sense, and so does Wesley Matthews. Danny Green and Rodney Hood will likely get offers that take them out of this price range most likely. For the sake of argument, let’s just say they get Ariza. To get Ariza would likely only take about $5 million.

7.45 million dollars left – 5 million dollars = 2.45 million + 900k for freed up roster spot = 3.35 million left in cap space.

They could then use that 3.35 million dollars left to bring back JeVale McGee and give him a small pay increase over the vet minimum offers he likely will get, while providing depth and familiarity.

CAP SPACE DONE!

Finally, the Lakers would have what is known as the cap room exception. This is an exception used by teams that are under the cap to allow them to sign players after they have spent their cap space. It is less than the non-tax payer MLE by almost half, but it is still very useful. The Lakers would want to use this to get some more guard depth. This would give the Lakers the final guy in their primary rotation, and the principal playmaker off the bench, and so there are number of potential guys they could use it on. Cory Joseph and George Hill come to mind, but I anticipate Hill takes the same exception from Milwaukee to run-it back, and I think that the Lakers have a better in-house candidate than Joseph: Rajon Rondo. They can sign Rondo to the cap exception ( 1 year 4.8 million) and he can tag-team in place of and alongside Collison to provide playmaking help, and allow LeBron to continue to move off the ball more of the time. Rondo is familiar with AD from their great run in the playoffs a couple of years ago when they swept the Blazers in the first round. AD reportedly “loved playing with Rondo”, and while his defense has slipped dramatically, he has improved almost as dramtically as a shooter (36 % from 3, which is astounding if you remeber Rondo early in his career) and is still a dynamic playmaker. Bringing him back as a veteran backup, that both LeBron and AD value seems very smart and logical.

And now for filling out the roster … We are now at 9 rotation guys + a 10th in 2nd round pick Talen Horton-Tucker (a kid with some serious upside and physical tools …7 FOOT ONE wingspan for a wing/forward is ABSURD). With the remaining slots you can sign:

Jeff Green – minimum salary

JR Smith – (once cut by Cleveland from his partially guaranteed contract ) minimum salary

Alex Caruso – minimum salary

Kyle Korver – (once cut by Memphis from his partially guaranteed contract) minimum salary

Final Lakers Roster is as such:

Bigs – AD/Jordan/Kuzma/McGee

Forwards – Bron/Green/Horton-Tucker

Wings – Bullock/Ariza/Smith/Korver

Guards – Collison/Rondo/Caruso

That’s a championship roster with shooting, playmaking, post-play and defense permeated throughout. You can mix and match different line-ups and can finally afford to play LeBron around 32-34 minutes a game during the regular season. You can grind it out or play up-tempo. You can use Bron as either a playmaker or finisher. You can feature AD in either the high or low-post. You can run the pick and roll with a number of different iniators and finshers. Provided Frank Vogel brings the necessary finishing touches to polish up the wing defense like he did in Indiana (they have a bunch of good defenders there but no lock-down guy), I can’t see anyone beating this team.

Scenario 2: Long-Term Thinking – Get a max guy, use the cap room exception on a 5th starter and fill the bench with minimum salary guys.

Contrary to what the common thought is, if they went this option, it would prove they are not so much thinking about winning it in 2020 but for the next 2-3 years after that. Doing this would create a massively talented, but very top heavy roster. I’m going to assume they get a PG in this scenario since the 3 most likely gets for them (Kyrie Irving, D’Angelo Russell, and Kemba Walker, not in tht order) are all PGs:

Bigs – AD/Kuzma/McGee (McGee – if he comes at the vet minimum which is only 850k less than the 1st scenario)

Forwards – Bron/Green/Horton-Tucker (unchanged)

Wings – Smith/Korver/Ariza (would use the cap room exception on Ariza instead of Rondo and could only keep Bullock if they got D-Lo … would have to let his cap hold go to get Kemba or Kyrie )

Guards – Star FA/ Caruso

Obviously, who they use the cap room exception on would change if they got, say Kawhi Leondar instead (unlikely). That’s a very thin team that would run the risk of running it’s core down ragged if they cannot get enough solid contributors on vet minimum deals. However, they would be set up beautifully for Summer 2020, when they would have a 1st round pick, a mid-level excpetion and a bi-annual exception at their disposal to add depth. I think this scenario is what the Lakers are shooting for, and if pulled off, could still result in a title Year 1, but also sets them up much better for years 2-4.

Scenario 3: Make-Do – Operate as a capped out team and sign all of their own free agents to 1-2 year deals using their Bird Rights (Reggie Bullock, Mike Muscala), Early-Bird Rights (KCP, Alex Caruso) and Non-Bird-Rights (JeVale McGee, Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson). And use the mid-level excpetion to add another key piece. That leaves you with this roster:

Bigs – AD/Kuzma/McGee/Muscala (DeAndre Jordan with the MLE ?)

Forwards – Bron/Talen Horton-Tucker (Marcus Morris with the MLE ?)

Wings – Bullock/KCP/Stephenson (Danny Green with the MLE?)

Guards – Rondo/Caruso (Darren Collison with the MLE ?)

This would only happen if the Lakers whiffed on all their major FA targets and decided to run it back and try to use the max slot in 2021. While that is not a bad roster, it is an expensive roster, and one they would be mostly locked into for the next two years. In order to sign players to non-bird, or early-bird contracts, you must sign them to two year deals and at 100-120 % and 100-175 % of their previous salaries, respectively. This would lock them into some guys at not terrific contracts for two more seasons, which is not ideal.

I’m very curious to see how Rob Pelinka carries out this off-season. The Lakers sit at the precipice of a dynastic run and these next few weeks will be critical. I for one am excited !

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