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The Lakers have an open roster spot... now what?

With an open roster spot, the Lakers have a number of directions they can go in, even if some are easier than others.

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Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

On Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers finalized a three-team trade that opened a roster spot for them ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline on Feb. 10, and the subsequent buyout market. While that could be the biggest move they make this season, there’s reason to believe the next month will be very busy for Rob Pelinka and the rest of the front office, with this week looming as especially large.

The first order of business that the Lakers have to tend to is Stanley Johnson’s contract. Johnson, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers via a hardship exception on Dec. 24. Since then, he’s appeared in every game (starting three) and added a defensive edge that the team was previously missing, especially with Anthony Davis sidelined.

It’s reasonable to believe that Johnson will be brought back, but unless the Lakers are ready to offer him a guaranteed deal for the rest of the season, they have to wait until Wednesday, Jan. 5 to sign him to another 10-day contract.

In a non-COVID season, Jan. 5 is the first day teams are allowed to start signing players to 10-day contracts, and since the Lakers currently don’t have any players in health and safety protocols, they can’t sign Johnson — or anyone else — to a 10-day deal until that date, as confirmed by salary cap expert Eric Pincus.

Two days later, on Jan. 7, Avery Bradley’s contract becomes fully guaranteed for the season. When the Lakers claimed Bradley off waivers in October, it was widely-assumed that he wouldn’t finish the season with the team because of how much he struggled at his previous stops, and because of the glut of guards the team already had.

But after 30 appearances for Los Angeles this season, most of which have been productive, the safer bet is that Bradley will be on the roster past Jan. 7, and if that suspicions holds true, the Lakers will only have the one open roster spot to audition talent with in January. Johnson is the presumed favorite to get that roster spot, but given how important this next month will be for the Lakers from a roster rebuilding standpoint, they may hold off on committing to Johnson.

It’s also possible that the Lakers choose to open up another roster spot for Johnson using a trade similar to the Rondo one. On Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the Lakers sent $1.1 million in cash considerations to the Knicks to redirect Denzel Valentine from Los Angeles to New York.

After using cash in Monday’s trade and the Marc Gasol trade in September, the Lakers have $4.4 million in cash they can use to facilitate a trade involving Jordan, or Jordan and another low-end rotation player like Kent Bazemore, the latter of which would add up to $7.3 million in outgoing salary.

And for those that care, the Lakers would actually save luxury tax money by trading Jordan plus cash to another team and signing another player for the veteran’s minimum as opposed to just waiving him.

The point is that the Lakers have options to improve their roster, and they aren’t married to this version of the team, as illustrated by the Rondo trade. Both of those things are important as the NBA enters its window for midseason roster changes, and this week will tell us a lot about the Lakers’ intentions moving forward.

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