Last offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to improve the talent around LeBron James and Anthony Davis without delving too far into the luxury tax. This offseason, that won’t be the case.
While the Lakers will almost certainly be aggressive in pursuing upgrades again, it will come at the expense of a hefty luxury tax bill this time around. Fortunately, the team’s controlling owner Jeanie Buss doesn’t seem to view that as an obstacle.
Not only has she gone on record and said that she’s willing pay the luxury tax to stay competitive, but the team’s general manager, Rob Pelinka, said that Buss has also relayed that message to him.
“Jeanie and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing and that’s to smartly build a roster to win championships,” Pelinka said during his exit interview. “That’s been the hallmark of this team since Dr. Buss acquired it, and continues to be today. Clearly all 30 NBA teams are confined by a salary cap, so we’ve got to be smart about how we put all the puzzle pieces together, but there is only one goal, and it’s doing it smartly to have a championship-caliber team.
“I think next year of course, hopefully with all of our fans being able to come back and be a part of the building, we owe them the work to start the process of retooling and having a championship-caliber team that can do special things next year, and that’s the driving passion and there’s alignment there between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches and our players that that will always be the goal.”
The bulk of the Lakers’ spending power will be used to retain the talent on the roster. That was a given because of the financial restraints they would have to work under with players they don’t have some Bird Rights to, but Pelinka confirmed that suspicion on Friday.
“In terms of free agency, again, we feel like we have a core group of players that can do special things,” Pelinka said. “And I’m convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we’d be a championship-caliber team, so the goal is to try and keep that core group together.
“And, of course, with players like Talen Horton-Tucker, and Alex Caruso, and Kyle Kuzma — players that you draft or bring into your two-way system and groom and develop — there’s a level of pride in that, and what the Lakers have been able to do with those players to grow them. So of course our intentions would be to keep our core together, and to have a championship team.”
Ultimately it’s up to the Lakers’ free agents to decide whether or not they want to come back, with the exception of Talen Horton-Tucker, who cane become a restricted free agent. But if the front office is communicating to those players that they’re willing to pay to play, then it’s hard to imagine any of them leaving without a second thought.