Right now, there isn’t a lot they can do about that. But starting on Feb. 24, the Lakers can sign a player to their 15th roster spot because the prorated veteran’s minimum at that point will be less than the amount of wiggle room between their bloated payroll and the hard cap:
A couple of key dates for the Los Angeles Lakers:— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) February 15, 2021
Feb. 23- 10 Day contracts can be signed
Feb. 24- The contract of Quinn Cook becomes guaranteed.
Feb. 24- The Lakers can sign a player to a rest of the season guaranteed contract.
They are currently $913K below the hard cap.
And as we’ve come to expect from general Rob Pelinka and this front office, it sounds like the Lakers are already doing their due diligence to get a sense for who might be available at that point, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on the latest episode of his eponymous “Woj Pod” while talking about the fallout from Davis’ injury (emphasis mine):
“I think for the Lakers now, you mentioned the buyout market later, I know they’ve been poking around the league a little bit to see if some role players may become available elsewhere. But I think the Lakers and the Nets, the Clippers, those teams have shown that they’re going to compete for the top buyout market players. For the L.A. players, a chance to go be in L.A., a chance to compete for a title, and obviously Brooklyn has needs.”
As for what kind of player that could be available, Woj happened to mention a player that’s frequently been linked to the Lakers, and a former client of Pelinka’s from his days as an agent: Trevor Ariza. Ariza has been extensively connected to his previous team and prior representative for years now, links we exhaustively covered in December when Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Lakers were “monitoring” to see if Ariza got bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
To be clear, Woj was mostly speculating about types of players who might be available for contenders, not directly reporting. It was (at best) informed speculation, but still notable from an insider with his track record, on the heels of a report and given all the prior Lakers/Ariza connections:
“Remember a player who’s still out there, Bobby: Trevor Ariza, who is on Oklahoma City’s roster, he’s not reported this year. (Thunder GM) Sam Presti traditionally does not do contract buyouts. He’s usually been able to find trades for guys, so maybe Ariza gets a trade somewhere and then gets bought out if the Lakers can’t trade for him, but that’s another player who I think will be in great demand among the contenders. He’s somebody who has shown up in big moments, a really experienced and versatile forward.”
Much of the focus for the Lakers’ last roster spot — especially in the wake of Davis’ injury — has been on an extra big man, and the team hasn’t been great at defending the rim. Ariza wouldn’t exactly solve that, and it’s not clear how big of a role would be available for him in Los Angeles, but before sneering at the idea of adding a wing, it’s worth remembering that it’s tough to see the Lakers landing an impact big on the buyout market.
Why? Because until further notice, it seems likely that whoever the best center to become available will go to Brooklyn to play a much bigger role and more minutes while trying to fill the Nets’ gaping hole in the middle. Because the reality is that as soon as Davis gets healthy, any big the Lakers sign will be getting spot minutes (at best) when games matter anyway. Unless they saw JaVale McGee cheering from the bench in the playoffs and thought “I want to do that!”, those centers will know that in Brooklyn, they fill a need that lasts longer than an injury.
So in a market that’s already basically picking at table scraps, the Lakers won’t even have first choice in that department. They also aren’t eligible to re-sign McGee (one of the better buyout candidates) unless he changes teams again in between because it hasn’t been more than a year since they traded him.
Like I said, it’s tough to see them finding a difference-maker at center as a buyout player.
Still, the Lakers don’t have to make a decision on a player now, either. Just because they can sign a player in nine days doesn’t mean they have to. With the trade deadline coming up on March 25, the Lakers can check out their options there, and since there is no deadline to sign a player before the postseason and have them be playoff eligible, the Lakers would only need said player to be waived on or before April 9. So they have a few months to look at their options, see how Davis is healing, and assess their biggest need.
This report is just a message that said process has already begun.