The NBA is continuing it’s gradual transition back to a normal calendar after a pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 season that finished up with an NBA Finals last fall. That later-than-normal end required a 73-day offseason to get back on track for 2020-21, and the next step forward will be 2021 free agency taking place in August, after the 2020 version took place in November.
On Monday, the league announced that teams can start talking to players on Aug. 2, and begin officially inking contracts on Aug. 6:
The following key dates have been announced: pic.twitter.com/pKUJ7ETW3c— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 19, 2021
Here is everything you need to know about what this means from a Lakers perspective.
Why so late?
The NBA Finals are slated to start on July 8 this year because of the season starting in December, so the traditional July start of free agency is out of the question. Both the Finals and when free agency starts will likely also take a lot of players out of consideration to play in the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan:
Olympics are July 21-August 8. Final rounds will take place during free agency. https://t.co/y7HE3xOMZs— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) April 19, 2021
Which Lakers will be free agents?
The Lakers have their two most important players, stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, inked to multi-year deals, so they don’t have to worry about their futures until closer to 2023 at the earliest. With health, their core two will leave them set to contend for a while.
In terms of the rest of the roster, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma are both owed $13 million next season and slated to return after getting multi-year deals over the last year. Ditto for Marc Gasol, who is under contract for $2.7 million for the 2021-22 campaign. Alfonzo McKinnie has two non-guaranteed years at around $2 million apiece remaining on his deal. Luol Deng’s stretched contract dead money is (amazingly) still on the books for one final $5 million payment next season before finally expiring.
Beyond that, there could be a fair amount of upheaval this summer, depending on how this season shakes out. Dennis Schröder appears determined to test unrestricted free agency, while Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option he could decline. Wesley Matthews, Markieff Morris, Alex Caruso, Jared Dudley, Andre Drummond, Ben McLemore and two-way player Devontae Cacok are all slated to hit unrestricted free agency. Talen Horton-Tucker and Kostas Antetokounmpo can both be made restricted free agents if the Lakers tender them qualifying offers.
If you want to see all the numbers and specifics for yourself, check out Eric Pincus’ salary page on Basketball Insiders, but in short, the Lakers will have a lot of guys that could leave this summer.
How much cap space will the Lakers have?
Potentially none, if they re-sign their own key players. The final number will depend on a number of player and team decisions, but the Lakers are not currently expected to have very much money to spend in free agency because of all the cap holds tied to their existing free agents, and the expensive deals they already have on the books.
For context, Pincus, in his ranking of teams’ offseason spending power for Bleacher Report, put the Lakers’ 26th out of 30 NBA teams, with them only realistically having either the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9.5 million) if Schröder leaves, or the taxpayer mid-level ($5.9 million) if he stays.
You can read more specifics on that at the link above — or about why keeping Drummond is probably going to be tough here — but long story short, the Lakers’ best bet is likely to keep their own guys, because they can spend more on them than they can on replacements.
All of the above noted, as we saw last offseason, Rob Pelinka always has a few aces up his sleeve, and the Lakers always seem to get involved in some fireworks somehow. As of today, even if we don’t know what is going to happen, we at least know when the madness will begin.