How and why the Lakers can part ways with Luol Deng soon

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If the Lakers wanted to unload Luol Deng via the stretch provision today, the remaining two years of his contract would be stretched over five years, leaving the team with a large chunk of dead money on the books for the foreseeable future. However, now that nearly all of the offseason business is done and the Lakers didn’t end up needing to stretch Deng for a second max tier free agent (or unload him in a trade that reports indicated would have taken multiple assets to accomplish), it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will, once again, spend an entire season wasting away on the Lakers bench. Fortunately for both the Lakers and for Deng, after September 1st there is a third option.

Based on the CBA, that date marks the beginning of the new business year for the league as far as calculating contracts, so in essence, once we pass September 1st, were are officially in the 2018-2019 season. Once that happens this year’s salary for Deng (18,000,000) becomes fully committed, and can no longer be stretched. But that’s actually good news.

As described by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ian Begley in a story they did for ESPN regarding the Knicks facing the identical situation with Joakim Noah (2 more years, way too much money owed, and zero palpable trade options) the Lakers and Deng can basically leapfrog a whole year of uncomfortable DNP CDs if they waive him after September 1st, at that point stretching only the final year of his contract over the ensuing three seasons. In essence, with the 2018-2019 contract already a sunk cost, the Lakers would be stretching only the final year for Deng (18,810,000) over the summers of 2019, 2020, and 2021, but they’d be doing it now instead of next summer.

To understand how and why they should do this, I have broken down their cap situation for next year below, as it now stands.

2019-2020 Payroll

1, LeBron James 37,436,858

2, Lonzo Ball 8,719,320

3. Brandon Ingram 7,265,485

4, Moritz Wagner 2,063,520

5, Kyle Kuzma 1,974,600

6, Josh Hart 1,934,160

7, Svi Mikhailiuk 1,416,852

8, Isaac Bonga 1,663,861

9, 2019 First Round Pick 2,000,000 (estimated)

Luol Deng 18,810,000

Roster Charge 838,464

Roster Charge 838,464

Roster Charge 838,464

Roster Charge 838,464

Total 86,638,512

Projected Cap 109,000,000

Cap Room 22,261,508

As you can see with Deng still on the books for his full salary the Lakers have no easy routes to the max slot (about $32.7 million) they will need to attract the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson. Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, or any surprise max-level talent that may emerge during the upcoming season (*cough* Kris Middleton *cough*), without dumping both Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.

Of course they could wait until next summer, when a number of teams will have the cap room to absorb Deng, and then cough up a draft pick or two to unload him at that time. Unfortunately, if everyone knows the Lakers need the space, then they can make unloading even one year of Deng rather expensive, especially considering that any future draft pick(s) the Lakers could offer would be extremely late in the first round, especially if they land another max free agent to partner with LeBron James and the young core.

Still, either way you slice it the team needs a projected $32.7 million in room for any of the above mentioned players, and aside from unloading a bunch of draft picks or assets to dump Deng without taking back any salary, the waive and stretch seems like the least objectionable option. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, the Lakers don’t need to wait all season to make this move, but just 3 more weeks. In that case, if they simply wait to stretch Deng after September 1st, their 2019 cap room would now look something like this.

Luol Deng Stretched 6,270,000 in 2019/2020/2021

Added Roster Charge (the spot opened by a waived Deng) 838,464

Final Cap Room 34,063,024

The Lakers would now have the cap room needed for nearly every max player available, (Kevin Durant is the lone exception, and the Lakers could just about get there by dumping either Mo Wagner or their incoming 2019 1st round pick if needed, or if Deng takes less in a buyout, but more on that later) and then would only have dead money the ensuing two seasons after that, as opposed to the five they would have had if they had stretched him at the end of last season.

Furthermore, although the Lakers don’t need him to accept a reduced buyout to make the numbers work, any amount of his contract that Deng may give back in a buyout could be subtracted exclusively from the final year, further reducing the amount stretched and giving the Lakers a little bit more flexibility over the next three summers. So, while Deng may not want to give back too much, (and the Lakers really don't need him to) the ability to be free THIS SUMMER as opposed to another year of simulated games in the locker room would have to at least make him consider it. (Tom Thibodeau is nodding furiously)

In the end, the main cost to this plan is the dead money in the summers of 2020 and 2021 versus any assets that would be needed to trade away the entire contract. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for the Lakers this upcoming summer is the only one that matters. If they don’t add a max player this summer, then another season of one year deals plus kicking the proverbial can down the road won’t easily work, especially in 2020 when Brandon Ingram will get a big raise and the Lakers would rather operate as an over-the-tax team, keeping all of their exemptions, and with two max guys already in tow. The summer of 2021 is even tougher, when all of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart will be up for new deals.

Let’s face it. The Lakers best chance of getting back to championship contention means landing another max player THIS COMING SUMMER, and the only way to do that is to unload Luol Deng one way or another. So we can either wait all year and then hope one 1st rounder is enough to unload him, (and given the track record of Jesse Buss and his team in the draft even that may be too steep of a price to pay) or we can just wait three weeks, waive and stretch the last year over three, and be done with it now. Seems like a no-brainer to me.