For the week and a half or so since the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Anthony Davis, much of the discussion around the deal has almost completely skipped over the basketball merits of it, and mostly been consumed by talk about how much cap space the trade will leave L.A. with heading into free agency.
On some level that’s understandable. Whether the Lakers will have around $23 million, $27 million, or $32 million in cap space is important to understand, and will potentially affect the types of players the Lakers can actually recruit. The problem, however, is that the dialogue about the deal turned into a situation where no one seemed to know whether the Lakers understood the cap ramifications of the timing of the deal or not.
It was an unfortunate and exhausting debate that is made even more so by the fact that everyone seemed to have a different take on whether the team knew or not. And while there now does appear to be fairly unanimous agreement that the Lakers do understand how to create max cap space within the current construction and timing of the deal, it’s still unclear if they can (or will) do so or not.
In our latest update in this shockingly extensive saga, Bill Oram of The Athletic is reporting that the team is at the very least “confident” it can create max cap space if it’s needed (emphasis mine):
Much of last week was occupied by analysts questioning whether Pelinka, in his zeal to complete the Davis deal, had overlooked certain nuances of the salary cap and made it more difficult to create space for another max player. But sources said the Lakers remain confident they can get close enough to the roughly $32 million needed to sign a player like Irving or Kemba Walker to a max deal — by dumping the contracts of Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones — if they get a commitment from a top-tier player.
This is always what made the most sense, and probably the reason there has mostly been radio silence on this deal for the last few days. The Lakers are seemingly trying to assemble contingency multi-team deals with the Pelicans that allow them to create max cap room, but don’t really have a need to leak that they’re giving Wagner, Jones and Bonga away for nothing if they don’t end up needing that space in free agency. And in a related note, Anthony Davis also has no incentive to leak that he’ll waive his trade kicker (and the Lakers have no incentive to ask him to) until we get closer to the July 6 completion date for this deal, and both sides can figure out if the Lakers can use the cap space all of these moves would work in conjunction to create.
Basically, a lot of things are up in the air, including if the Pelicans would actually agree to help the Lakers create max cap space (which, yes, they would have to do if the Lakers are going to do it, because the timing of the trade necessitates that it be a three-team deal, which all sides have to agree to and send — even token — pieces to each other to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement’s “touching rule” for multi-team trades).
Previously, it was difficult to see why the Pelicans would agree to help a team they own virtually all of the future picks for create a superteam, but reasons for them to help the Lakers while also benefitting themselves seem to have surfaced:
If the Pelicans choose to fold their Anthony Davis trade with the Lakers and their trade of Solomon Hill with the Hawks into one, they can create a $27.1M trade exception, which they could bypass in favor of $30M+ cap room.— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) June 20, 2019
Now, such a deal would still require the Hawks (and maybe even a fourth team) to cooperate, which complicates things and makes it possible this may not get done. And hey, maybe the Pelicans value the Lakers’ future picks more than cap space for this year. There are plenty of reasons why this eventually may not work, and leave the Lakers with less than max cap space, and that’s without mentioning that they may just not choose to pursue that much room if they get word that max free agents don’t want to come. But there are also reasons for the front office to be as “confident” as Oram reports they are that they can make this happen.
We’ll see how it all shakes out as we get closer to the trade execution date.
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