Grantland's Bill Simmons has been putting out a plausible theory that could turn inevitably moribund 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers season into a renaissance year for the league's most blessed franchise. From the Sports Guy's article a couple weeks ago:
Don't rule out Chris Paul becoming a Laker next year. Here's how they could pull it off: If they amnestied Kobe Bryant, then traded Pau Gasol to Houston for a dirt-cheap salary (say, Donatas Motiejunas), they'd suddenly be lopping close to $49 million off next year's cap, leaving them with commitments to Metta World Peace, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Jordan Hill, and Gasol's cheap replacement for less than $30 million. That's more than enough to sign Chris Paul and re-sign Dwight Howard if they took a little less … which they might, since it's the Lakers and all.
To clarify, LA is very much over the $58 million dollar salary cap threshold--around $40 million over it. The 2013-2014 roster amounts to roughly $78 million in commitments, which doesn't count a figure for Dwight Howard if he were to re-sign. Pulling off Simmons' theoretical scenario would involve clearing the cap room and then signing Chris Paul to a 4-year, $79 million dollar deal (the most he's eligible for a team that's not the Clippers) and Dwight to a 5-year, $118 million dollar deal. No easy feat.
(For the uninitiated, the amnesty clause is a one-time provision every team has in order to waive one player and thus clearing his salary from their salary cap number. The player cut will still receive his payment in full, but the team will not have to pay any luxury tax on the contract, if they are indeed over the cap limit. Also, the team that waives the player cannot re-sign him for the entire duration of the original contract. For this case specifically, if the Lakers were to amnesty Kobe Bryant, they would not be able to re-sign at any point during the 2013-2014 season)
As insanely cold-hearted as it may be, the Sports Guy might not be crazy. LA could completely rebuild in just one season, launching themselves back into championship contention after a mere three years in title-purgatory. Make no mistake: a Chris Paul/Dwight Howard core would, health permitting, be more than a match for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and perhaps Finals-bound Memphis Grizzlies. If it were to happen, that is.
Beyond all the complexities of essentially cutting Kobe Bryant (and don't be naïve: if Kobe Bryant were to get cut via the amnesty provision by the Lakers, do you think for one second that a disgruntled and disrespected Mamba would ever come back to the purple & gold, even after he was allowed to? He's still upset at the Phoenix Suns for beating a Kwame Brown and Smush Parker-led team 8 years ago. He would never get over this), there are too many technical difficulties to get this coup to happen. Let's go to the tape:
1) The clock is against them. The Lakers can ONLY use the amnesty provision between July 10th and July 17th 2013
If the Lakers are going to make such a franchise altering decision, they'll need to do it all in a two-week period.
Every NBA team can talk to free agents starting on midnight on July 1st. Though teams cannot officially sign players, they can "agree to terms" before pen is put to paper. This is in no way legally binding, meaning that the player is not compelled under contract law to sign with the team, but 9 times out of 10 will end up inking a contract. On the 10th, teams can officially sign free agents.
In regards to the amnesty provision, the Lakers can use it for a one-week window immediately following the 10-day negotiating period (called a moratorium) beginning in June. If not used in that time frame, they won't be able to use it going forward--the only players eligible for the amnesty cut are players that have been on the Lakers roster prior December 2011. In other words, the only players left this summer eligible to be waived by the provision are Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace, who all come off the books in 2014. Thus, the amnesty provision will not be available based on the players they have. Just to clear up any confusion, Steve Nash is NOT eligible to be cut via the amnesty clause because he was signed after December 2011.
For elite free agents, like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, they'll traditionally sign within the first week or so following the moratorium. Let's look at when prime time players came to terms with teams the past 3 seasons:
Joe Johnson: July 4th, 2010
Amar'e Stoudemire: July 5th, 2010
Dwyane Wade: July 7th, 2010
Chris Bosh: July 7th, 2010
LeBron James: July 8th, 2010
Carlos Boozer: July 8th, 2010
Tyson Chandler: December 9th, 2010 (first day of the moratorium due to lockout)
Deron Williams: July 11th, 2012
Brook Lopez (yes, he's included): July 11th, 2012
Based on previous precedents, CP3 and D-12 could sign any time between 4th and 11th, complete with a detailed courting period by all the contending teams (though with Dwight, his boundless indecision could drag it out until September. I'm joking. Kind of).
This all means if the Lakers are going to create enough room to sign both Howard and Paul together by cutting Kobe amongst other maneuvers, they're going to need to do it rather swiftly. Like, a week and a half swiftly, with everything officially signed and sealed within seven epic days.
LA would have to begin to realize their master plan in talking to CP and Dwight during the moratorium, which, if not done quietly enough, could tip off Bryant. In the case convincing both players to sign with the Lakers doesn't work out, a scorned Kobe isn't anything the franchise would want to be a part of. It would take a massive amount of heavy lifting to get all of this done so quickly.
(For those of you wondering, the Lakers only have one true contender to sign both away at the same time: the Atlanta Hawks, who would have to renounce rights to Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and DeShawn Stevenson in order to do so. In this excellent article by Tim McMahon, he rules out the possibility of Dallas signing both players, while the Rockets would have to trade almost every player on their roster besides James Harden in order to do so)
If the Lakers are going to change their trajectory and cut ties with one of the organization's three greatest players ever, it's going to happen in a flash. Time is not on LA's side.
2) This of course, presumes the Lakers can move Pau Gasol
As Simmons pointed out, the Lakers would have to trade Gasol to a team far enough under the salary cap to absorb his $20 million dollar deal in order to send minimal assets back (ordinarily, the salaries traded between two teams have to amount to within $3 million dollars between each other--but not the case when trading to a team that is under the cap threshold enough to absorb the contract). This is a problem for several reasons:
- As of now, the teams with that type of cap room (or could come close to it without significant maneuvering) this summer are: Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks.
- We can safely rule out the Magic, Kings, Pistons, Wizards and Hornets, who are rebuilding teams trying to develop young big men. Acquiring Pau would be adding a tremendous salary for a player who might not get them into the playoffs, and could hamper the progress of future stars.The Cavaliers have been named a suitor for Dwight in the media, but considering that the Cleveland market is smaller than Orlando, I'd rule that out as a true contender for his services now.
- Let's also rule out the Bucks, who will be using their precious cap room to keep restricted free agent Brandon Jennings. This of course could change if Monta Ellis opts out of his $11 million dollar deal next season, which looks unlikely.
- This leaves Dallas, Houston and Atlanta...who are the three teams vying to sign both Paul and/or Howard this summer. They won't be making any moves that would prohibit them from signing either guy, until they're officially off the free agent board.
The only way the Lakers are trading Pau to those teams is IF they know Howard is re-signing and IF any of those three teams are willing to take him. The inherent problem here is they won't know either presumably until after July 10th...giving the Lakers just one more thing to do before pulling off such a massive set of moves.
Even on a one-year deal, the Mavs, Rockets and Hawks would gladly take Gasol for the price of a young so-so prospect or draft picks IF indeed they lost out on Paul and/or Howard. But they won't know until the last second--LA cannot afford to trade Pau preemptive of seeing what Dwight will do. Moreover, those three teams certainly aren't going to help give the Lakers an even greater advantage in creating a super-team unless they are left without any options.
3) Convincing Chris Paul to become a Los Angeles Laker...without Kobe Bryant
Reportedly, one of the prime draws for Chris Paul wanting to become a Laker so badly 18 months ago was the potential to play with Bryant. Both Kobe and CP are psychotic competitors, who know nothing besides basketball and revile teammates don't conduct themselves similarly. This year, reports out of the Clippers locker room are that both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan chafed at Paul, who was critical of their focus on Sportscenter dunks rather than doing whatever's necessary to win ball games.
Will Chris Paul want to sign up for five years with Dwight Howard, a jovial All-Star often criticized for a lack of intensity? It's easy to imagine CP and Kobe getting along, feeding into one another's insatiable desire to win. With Howard? Much harder.
4) Signing LeBron James will no longer be a possibility...probably.
For the past two seasons, the understood subtext of the Lakers' offseason maneuvers was that it'd put them into position to be able to offer maximum contracts next summer to potential free agents like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and of course, LeBron James.
By signing Howard and Paul to nearly $20 million apiece, the Lakers will only be able to offer James less than half of that when counting Steve Nash's $10 million dollar against the team's salary cap. Unless the team again finds an under the cap team to take a 41 year-old Nash, signing the duo of D-12 and CP3 this summer would effectively put them out of the running in signing the best player in the world in 2014.This is a minor deterrent considering the team they'd have already, but it has to be a consideration for the Lakers.
Pulling off this fantasy scenario isn't impossible, but the inherent obstacles are extremely large. Even if Paul and Howard were interested in uniting, this deal would presume that other teams are interested in helping the Lakers set up four or five more seasons as title contenders. This would be, without a doubt, the biggest series of transactions in professional sports history that included so many MVP-caliber players. That alone makes this potential situation very, very unlikely. It's not impossible, but it would take all of Mitch Kupchak and Jimmy Buss's wizardry to make this happen and a gallon of cold, cold blood. Dream on Lakers fans.
All CBA information here is from the salary cap bible (otherwise known as CBA FAQ) by the superb Larry Coon. All salary cap information taken from hoopshype.com
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino