At this point in the season, only the most manic viewers of the Lakers believe there is any point in the team going out of their way to win games. The team itself has finally accepted this reality, benching most of their motley crew of veterans in favor of whatever young players they have available. Needless to say, this has greatly helped what was once an uncertain hope that the Lakers would retain their own first rounder. As of this writing, the Lakers occupy a fairly safe fourth spot in the tank rankings, giving them a comfortable 82.8% chance of keeping what should be a top five pick in a strong draft. It is also all but assured that the team will get a first rounder from Houston and keep their own second rounder since the latter will fall somewhere in the 31-40 range.
Now that we're roughly certain of the draft picks the Lakers will end up with and the other salary commitments they will have to deal with, we can also start painting a picture of the Lakers' cap flexibility this summer and how this might impact their offseason plans. Let us start with all the players that will be under contract -- including those with non-guaranteed deals -- presuming for the moment that the Lakers will decline all available team options and that those prospective free agents with player options will decline them as well:
|Minimum cap holds (x5)||$2,625,465|
Before you get excited at that cap space projection, we unfortunately will have to bring you back to reality by reminding you that the moment Adam Silver announces the name of whomever is hopefully one of the Lakers' new franchise cornerstones on draft night, the Lakers automatically will accrue a cap hold equal to 100% of that player's rookie scale slot. As such, the higher in the draft the Lakers pick, the more they have to pay that rookie. In addition, they will have to pay the slot value for the first rounder they will get from Houston. Unsigned second round picks, however, are not included in this calculus.
For the purposes of this exercise, let us give the Lakers the maximum amount of cap space they could possibly get and project the fifth and thirtieth overall picks going to them on draft night:
|Fifth overall pick rookie scale slot||$3,117,900|
|30th overall pick rookie scale slot||$943,300|
|Minimum cap holds (x3)||$1,575,279|
As noted, you could easily add $1-2 million onto that total salaries figure; drafting first overall would add $1.6 million, for instance. At any rate, this is a fairly robust figure and definitely more than enough to offer the 25% ($17 million) or 30% ($20 million) maximum this summer, meaning that for essentially whatever free agent the Lakers deign to pursue, they can pay as much as any other team on the market that is not the relevant free agent's original team. The question of which specific free agents to pursue aside, a topic we'll talk plenty about between now and the free agency period, this projection is good for the Lakers' offseason prospects.
There are two spanners to throw into the works here: Jordan Hill's team option and the fact that the Lakers probably would be interested in bringing back Ed Davis, who has been on record saying he will decline his player option for next season. This past summer, the former was viewed as a formality, as it appeared that the Lakers would likely include Hill in a trade sometime this season. Needless to say, that hasn't happened, so we at least have to consider the possibility that the Lakers will exercise Hill's team option, if only to use him as possible trade collateral near the draft or moving forward:
|Jordan Hill '15-'16 team option||$9,000,000|
|Minimum cap holds (x2)||$1,050,186|
Again, remember that this is the most optimistic projection you can make for the Lakers' cap situation, and they could easily have as low as $14 million if their draft position is better (and it probably will be). To be sure, $14-16 million is still quite a bit of cap space and LA could certainly be competitive for the gamut of 25% max options even if they can't pay the full max. You very well could think that the Lakers don't have a good shot at the panoply of 30% max options such as Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, or Marc Gasol, so maintaining maximum cap space could arguably be considered less of a concern.
Davis' situation, however, complicates this calculus because depending on what his market looks like, there is a decent chance the Lakers will re-sign him. He's a very productive two-way big and those aren't commonly available, so taking advantage when one such player declares that he would be receptive to a long-term deal in LA would be appropriate. That noted, doing so would be rather difficult if the Lakers exercise Hill's option since even with a conservative calculation of Davis' value at say $4-5 million a year, paying Davis will cripple the Lakers' ability to offer competitive contracts for max-worthy players this summer.
As such, it is a fair statement that the Lakers would have to choose between one of Hill or Davis this summer, the third option of bringing back neither notwithstanding. Mind you, the team could very well end up drafting Jahlil Okafor or Karl Towns and make this a moot point, as the team would then have a full (and very young) frontcourt of Randle, Kelly, Black, Sacre, and their top pick. Even drafting a center such as Robert Upshaw or Dakari Johnson with one of their later picks could have a similar chilling effect on the Lakers' decision-making process with Hill and Davis.
The "correct" decision here is thus hard to ascertain since we just don't have a good grasp on the free agent market this summer and who might realistically be available. By the same token, the Lakers might have gotten a good idea of Hill's trade market this past deadline and can gauge what the likely returns could be this summer. It very well might be the case that the assets the Lakers could get are sufficiently marginal as to make the issue of Hill taking up a big chunk of cap space unnecessarily burdensome. Analogous to the draft pick situation above, the Lakers could also be targeting a big man such as Greg Monroe as one of their primary options, further making the issue of Hill's team option moot, although the Lakers have a greater risk of being left out in the cold with nothing here as opposed to if they end up drafting a center.
Regardless of how this plays out, the Lakers do stand to have considerable flexibility this summer and that's an encouraging prospect for a team that has been on the bottom for the past two years. As the last year before the cap explodes because of the NBA's new media deal and some truly gargantuan contracts start to be thrown around, it will be quite difficult for the Lakers to overpay anyone this summer, behooving them to throw this money at someone. Parsing out who that someone is will be one of the more fascinating storylines to follow this offseason.
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