The Lakers paid a heavy price to acquire Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade that essentially gutted the entire roster outside of franchise cornerstones LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma. One of the theories behind surrendering so many assets was that clearing out all of the team’s young players would give the Lakers enough cap space to sign a third superstar to complement James and Davis.
The cap mechanics required to make that happen are quite complicated, however, and it doesn’t appear that the Lakers negotiated cooperation from the Pelicans to ensure max space during their trade talks.
Currently, because the trade has not been officially completed, the Lakers have maximum cap space for a 7-to-9 year free agent, like Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, or Jimmy Butler. The Lakers can use that space before consummating the Davis trade, which was assumed to be the plan. Because the Lakers would then be operating over the cap, they would need to send matching salary to New Orleans to facilitate the Davis trade. That matching salary includes the no. 4 overall pick, and that player cannot be traded until 30 days after signing his contract, which puts July 30 as the earliest day such a trade could be executed.
Assuming you followed that, and feel free to read that paragraph again along with capologist Jeff Siegel’s explanation until you do, you may have noticed a complication. The Pelicans intend to complete this deal as early as possible on July 6, and according to a report from Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times, they have no inclination to delay in order to help the Lakers, even if it’s apparently possible they could be swayed to do so:
Although the Pelicans are open to working with the Lakers and delaying the trade, it’s unlikely that will happen, according to multiple people familiar with their thinking. New Orleans’ priority will be to make the fourth pick as attractive as possible to another team.
It’s likely that whatever team they trade the fourth pick to will want the player in their building as quickly as possible, and will want him to play at the Las Vegas Summer League, which will be held July 5-15. If the Pelicans opt to keep the pick, they might also want him to participate in Summer League.
Given that New Orleans views the no. 4 pick as an asset for a future deal, they want to move that pick as soon as possible, which means they can’t wait around for the end of July, when most free agents will have already signed contracts. Whichever team ends up with that player will also probably want him in Summer League to learn their system as soon as possible, as Ganguli noted in her story. Lottery picks also drive a lot of business in Summer League.
There has been some discussion that the Lakers will try to convince the Pelicans to wait on the trade if they need the max space, but that would probably require surrendering even more assets to New Orleans, because otherwise the Pelicans have no incentive to help L.A. The line in that story about them being open to the idea is all but an official request for the Lakers to offer another pick for the Pelicans’ ever-growing war chest.
Furthermore, even if the Lakers don’t get a superstar, completing the trade on July 6 limits the space they have to go after other free agents, and the team will need plenty of those to build its roster.
Basically, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office screwed up. Either they’ve put themselves in a position where they can’t realize their free agent grand plan, or they’ve given the Pelicans even more leverage to squeeze them dry. We knew that the Lakers were risking their future in the Davis trade, but now it has become clear that some poor negotiating may have forced them to sacrifice more of their present as well.
For more on how this trade affects the Lakers’ cap space, listen to our latest episode of the Silver Screen and Roll podcast below, and you can subscribe to the podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.