Most of the headlines about the Los Angeles Lakers right now are (justifiably) centered on their pursuit of New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis, but a trade isn’t the team’s only avenue to improve in a summer in which they can also open up enough cap space to offer a maximum contract in free agency.
Now, part of that ability depends on when exactly a potential trade for Davis is actually finalized. If the Lakers wanted max cap room they would have to agree to terms on a Davis trade, but not complete it until they had signed any theoretical max or near max free agent. And according to the latest reports, the team is still very much planning to go after players of that tier in July.
On ESPN’s Mock Draft special, NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski said that — despite him also reporting that the Lakers aren’t “a frontrunner” for any top free agents — the Lakers are one of three teams planning to pursue Kemba Walker, in addition to the incumbent Charlotte Hornets (h/t Lakers Outsiders):
”Teams like Dallas, the Knicks, the Lakers are going to be very interested in Walker.”
Interest is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills. And in Walker’s case, that makes a huge financial difference.
By virtue of being named third-team all-NBA, Walker is eligible for the “designated veteran contract” (a.k.a. the supermax), which would pay him approximately $221.3 million over five seasons. Comparatively, the Lakers (or any other team) could “only” offer Walker $140.6 million over four years, a difference of around $80 million for a player who has made approximately $58 million during the first eight years of his NBA career.
Basically, Walker would have to give up more than his total career earnings to date to leave Charlotte if they offer the full supermax, which is perhaps why he’s said staying with the Hornets is his first priority in free agency.
However, while it’s not immediately clear that the Hornets will offer the full supermax, Wojnarowski did point out that keeping him in February wouldn’t have made much sense if they weren’t planning to do so:
”If they weren’t going to sign him, you would have thought they would have traded him at the trade deadline.”
If the Hornets don’t offer the supermax, then it would appear the Lakers — or another team — might have a chance to swoop in and pry Walker away, because Charlotte doesn’t appear to have an immediate window to contention while building around Walker. However, $80 million is a lot to leave on the table for an undersized guard who just turned 29, so if the Hornets pony up, the Lakers’ interest in Walker may not matter much.