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Here’s how the NBA’s new salary cap projection affects the Lakers

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The team has slightly less available cash

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NBA All-Star Game 2017 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have cap space on their mind. It’s the only real way to explain the team giving up on point guard D’Angelo Russell and using him as a sweetener to convince the Brooklyn Nets to take on Timofey Mozgov’s bloated contract.

Why are the Lakers so focused on getting cap room? Well, according to reports, the team wants to chase LeBron James in the summer of 2018, something they would need substantial cap space to due if their pursuit of a trade for Paul George doesn’t prove fruitless.

It’s unknown exactly how the NBA’s financial adjustments will affect those plans next summer, but the league did lower the cap for this offseason. According to David Aldridge of NBA.com, the NBA’s salary cap projection for the summer dropped from $102 million to $99 million, meaning every team will have approximately $3 million less to play with in free agency this offseason.

This is the second time the cap has dropped recently, with the NBA’s estimate falling from $103 million to $102 million. The NBA salary cap was $94.1 million this season.

As things currently stand (until any more trades go down), that projection leaves the Lakers with around $14.5 million in cap space this summer after sending Russell and Mozgov out for Brook Lopez’s expiring deal, according to @Reed_nba of Forum Blue and Gold’s invaluable updating Lakers cap tracking sheet.

$14.5 million doesn’t leave the Lakers with enough to truly pursue a max-level superstar, barring the team sending out further salary (which as the world saw Tuesday, is very possible).

It seems more likely the team will continue to plan for free agency next summer rather than chase big fish this year. Under current projections of a $103 million cap next summer, that would leave the Lakers with around $39.2 million in cap room next offseason.

Getting that much room is why they traded for Lopez’s contract, although it remains to be seen what they can do with it. If the cap drops again as it has numerous times this summer, their superteam dreams could be even more difficult to make a reality.

Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.