New Plan: A Look at the Lakers' Salary Cap if They Keep Lonnie

LeBron James and Anthony Davis thank Lonnie Walker IV for winning Game 4

Back in early March, when the Lakers were fighting just to get into the playoffs, I speculated on how the Lakers would be able to keep all of their newly acquired players plus Austin Reaves. A lot has happened since then and I thought it would be worth re-visiting our cap situation and how to retain our best players for next season. There are a lot of famous sayings to describe what we've witnessed as this team has battled its way into the Western Conference Finals:

  • Iron Sharpens Iron
  • Pressure Makes Diamonds
  • The Cream Rises to the Top
No matter which cliché you rock with, this much is true: some of the players who we thought would be valuable in early March have proven themselves to be nearly unplayable. Others have shown their mettle when it mattered most. In my view, there are 9 players who have played themselves into belonging in the rotation next season, 2 players who have not, and another 4 who straddle the fence. First, let's visit the 2 players who are currently on the outs and who I do not feel are worth bringing back for next season:

Mohamed Bamba

Mo Bamba

This one hurts for me because Mo Bamba has the crazy measurements NBA scouts salivate over: the man is a human condor, standing 7 feet tall with a 7'10" wingspan. One need only look at the offensive and defensive versatility of our own non-All-Star center Anthony Davis (no slouch himself at 6'10" with a 7'6" wingspan) and imagine the potential in a player with the frame and skill of Mo Bamba. Despite common wisdom these days, it’s not as if Bamba didn't show flashes of potential with the Lakers. On February 23rd, Mo played 22 minutes vs the Warriors. He grabbed 13 rebounds and put up 10 points, including 2-4 from 3 point range. More impressively, on March 1st, Mo started vs OKC with both LeBron and Anthony Davis out with injuries. He logged 23 minutes, had 7 boards and 12 points with a stellar 3/4 from 3 point range and helped us to a much needed victory. Mo was a Matt Ryan-level difference maker given the margin between making the play-in tournament and being on the outside looking in.

Given this, it's not hard to see why in early March, I thought picking up Mo's $10.3m option for next year was a no-brainer. Unfortunately for Mo, he injured his ankle vs Golden State on March 5th and hasn't been the same since. Darvin Ham tried to play Mo in garbage time in Game 6 vs the Grizzlies and it was not pretty. He scored no points in 0-2 shooting in 9 minutes of play. This was not the Mo Bamba we saw in February vs the Warriors or March vs OKC. It's been announced that Mo is doubtful for Game 1 of the WCF vs Denver, having recently received PRP therapy in his ankle. A major part of ability is availability. In his 5 year career, Mo has logged regular seasons of 47, 62, 46, 71 and 49 games total. This is likely why the Magic made him available for a second round pick in the first place. On a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers cannot afford a role player to be unavailable for almost half of every season.

Malik Beasley

Malik Beasley

Oh boy was I wrong about Malik. In my defense, when I wrote the Fan Post in early March advocating to pick up Malik's $16.5m option, he was averaging 12.2ppg on 34% shooting from 3. This included games of 22 points vs Portland and 25 points vs Golden State (a game I attended with my Warriors-fan wife and led me to overvalue Beasley). Before the end of the regular season, Coach Ham realized Malik's offense was not enough to counterbalance his poor defense and has mostly given him minutes in garbage time. Rather than forcing his way back into the rotation like Lonnie Walker IV, Malik has averaged 3.3 points per game on 28% shooting from deep.

So, without further ado, here's how I propose Rob spend Jeanie's money this summer:

Lakers 2023-2024 Salary Cap
Player Cap Figure
LeBron James $46,900,000
Anthony Davis $40,600,080
D'Angelo Russell (Bird) $28,000,000
Rui Hachimura (Restricted Bird) $12,000,000
Austin Reaves (Restricted Early Bird) $11,368,000
Lonnie Walker (120%) (Non-Bird) $7,764,000
Dennis Schroder (TPMLE -$21k) (Non-Bird) $7,000,000
Jared Vanderbilt $4,640,000
2023 FRP (17th pick) $3,640,200
Troy Brown Jr. or vet min ($2.4m vet min) $1,989,698
Shaquile Harrison or vet min ($2.4m vet min) $1,989,698
Weyen Gabriel or vet min ($2.3m vet min) $1,989,698
Max Christie $1,719,864
2023 SRP (+$21k to get 3rd year) $1,102,929
Cole Swider or vet min $1,102,929
Total $171,807,096
2023 Salary Cap $134,000,000
2023 Luxury Tax Threshold $162,000,000
Luxury Tax Space ($9,807,096)
2023 Salary Apron $168,998,000
Luxury Tax Payments for $10m $25,260,000
Luxury Tax Payments for $15m $43,750,000
Luxury Tax Payments for $20m $65,000,000
Total Salary + Taxes $197,067,096

There's a lot to break down here. I don't think I need to waste any time on LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They are the foundation of this team. It's fine if you disagree, but the front office has clearly built this team with supporting players as planets rotating around a Binary Star System. So, let's talk about the others:


  • D'Angelo Russell $28m: There's no one more controversial with Lakers fans than D'lo. There are those of us who have watched him grow from immature rookie to fringe All-Star and have been rooting for him every step of the way and there are others who just see the cocky kid who looked unplayable in the post season for the Timberwolves. While D'Angelo is no Kyrie Irving, his talent is undeniable. He's been averaging nearly 16 points per game on nearly 35% shooting from deep to go along with 5 dimes and 3 boards per game in the first two rounds of the playoffs. While he's had some stinker games, he's also had a 31 point masterpiece and a 21 point first half and is +55 through 12 games (+4.6 per game on average). He's also an unrestricted free agent and will likely go where both the fit and money works best for him. I'm proposing $28m for the first year for a simple reason: Jalen Brunson (who unquestionably had a more productive offensive performance in the first two playoff rounds than Russell) signed a 4 year/$104m contract with the Knicks last year - or $26m/year. The salary cap is increasing 8% this summer. At $28m, we'd be basically offering the same contract as Brunson, adjusted for the cap increase. Is this a slight overpay? It likely is, but we have no other mechanism of acquiring a player at D'lo's talent level and need to re-sign him. So, Russell will reap the rewards of both his contributions and our team building needs.
  • Rui Hachimura $12m: It's really tough to gauge Rui's value. He looked like a star the first three games vs Memphis, but was then slightly exposed as a defensive liability due to his inability to negotiate around Golden State's complex web of screens. Overall, he's averaging 11 points and 3.6 boards on a whopping 53% from deep. I believe $12m to be an appropriate salary for a very skilled player who still needs to fill a few gaping holes in his game.
  • Austin Reaves $11.368m: So, I expect we'll see an article on SSR every two weeks about what Austin will make this summer. One day, it might say Austin will get the $51m max the Lakers can offer him. Another day, it might argue another team will waive their rights to their own free agents in order to clear the $23.5m in cap space needed to offer Austin a 4 year/$94m poison pill contract. The good news is the max anyone can offer Austin for next year is the same $11.368m the Lakers can offer him. So, it's easy for me to put this number down for Austin in pen.

Lonnie Walker

  • Lonnie Walker IV: $7.764m: Here's the deal with Lonnie: I had written him off for dead. Walker got injured and Malik Beasley seamlessly took his spot. What a tremendous story his Game IV performance was. After scoring 13 points in garbage time, Lonnie has averaged 11 points per game in the last 4 games at 43% from 3. His performance inspired me to take another look at our salary cap to find a way to retain him. I didn't know until recently that there is such a thing as "Non-Bird Rights". It's another exception that lets teams retain players like Lonnie, who they've only had for 1 season, with salary over the cap. With this exception, you can offer the player 120% of their current salary with contracts going up to 4 years with raises up to 8%. Since Lonnie received the full TPMLE this season at $6.479m, the maximum we can offer him is $7.464m. Now, another team could offer him more and we'd have no way to match it, but I think this is a fair salary for Lonnie and would give the Lakers a great chance to retain him.

Dennis Schroder

  • Dennis Schröder $7m: What a difference a few years make. When we first traded for Dennis, he demanded (and was given) a starting role. I thought it hurt the team that year as he was best suited as a backup point guard. After two humbling seasons receiving the league minimum, I think Dennis has earned a raise. While his primary role is that of a backup point guard, he also provides tremendous optionality when Ham wants to create a "Death Lineup" with 3 guards - Dennis, D'lo and Austin. Ham deployed Dennis this way in Game 6 vs the Warriors to tremendous success. Since we only have non-Bird rights to Dennis, that max we could offer him using that exception would be $3.1m, which is the same as the 10 year vet minimum. However, the tax payer mid-level exception goes up to $7.021m this summer. Given Dennis' value, I'd offer him $7m of the TPMLE. The other $21k? I'd utilize that to offer our second round pick a 3rd year - something you need either cap space or an exception to offer.
  • Jared Vanderbilt $4.64m: Vando in under contract for next season. 'Nuff said.
  • 17th Pick: $3.64m. These rates are set by the league. So, there's really nothing to negotiate. I just wanted to note that I'd like the Lakers to use one of their Front Office's greatest strengths: it's scouting department - and not trade away this pick.
  • Troy Brown Jr., Shaq Harrison & Wenyen Gabriel 3x $1.989m: I see these three as placeholders. If we can't find someone better in the summer, they are suitable players for the end of the bench. My hope is the Lakers will continue their deep playoff run and we will have options to sign some quality ring chasers for vet minimums. One example of the "Westbrook Tax" the Lakers paid was during the buyout season. Kevin Love requested a buyout from the Cavs and didn't even look in the direction of the then 13th place Lakers. Given our success, my hope is some quality players will make themselves available this summer. If not, these three are entirely serviceable.
  • Max Christie $1.72m: Max is under contract for next season and my hope is he puts on 20 lbs of muscle in the off season and comes back ready to contribute significant minutes.
  • 47th Pick: $1.1m + $21k: Again, let's put that scouting department to work and find another diamond in the rough. This time, let's try to keep them cost controlled for 3 seasons by offering them $21k above the rookie minimum. I know agents will have a say in this, but I hope the guaranteed 3rd year buys some control of this pick. If $21k won't do the trick, maybe we can shave enough off of Dennis' offer ($100k?) to seal the deal?
  • Cole Swider or vet min $1.1m: As we look to fill the final roster slot, why not save a little on luxury taxes and elevate Swider from a 2-year deal to a rookie NBA deal? It would save about $800k in salary vs a veteran min deal for someone with 2 years or more experience (important considering we're already on the hook for about $25m in repeater taxes). Plus, Swider has looked great in all the practice highlights. He's making those tough Klay Thompson 3's off of screens that we did not see him make back in Summer League or Pre-Season. My hope is Swider proves himself before Training Camp ends and gets his first full NBA contract.
A couple final thoughts. This 15 man roster is already almost $10m into the luxury tax and about $2.8m over the salary apron. For anyone thinking "well, we should just re-sign Mo or Malik to have them as trade assets" lets look at what that really means:
  • Swap out a $1.989m vet minimum contract for Mo's $10.3m contract, and we go from $9.8m over the cap to $18.11m over the cap. That would push the repeater luxury tax from $25m to $56.9m! That means, we'd be paying an extra $40.2m in salaries and taxes for one year of Mo Bamba! If you don't manage to trade him for no salary coming back, you'll need to explain why Mo Bamba is costing Jeanie Buss the equivalent of a superstar's max contract.
  • Swap out a $1.989m vet minimum contract for Malik's $16.5m and we go from $9.8m over the cap to $24.3m over the cap. That would push the repeater luxury tax from $25m to $85.4m! That means, we'd be paying an extra $74.9m in salaries and taxes for one year of Malik Beasley. In my expert opinion, Jeanie Buss will not approve Rob spending that kind money for Malik.
So there's my reasoning. It's very different from where I was in early March, but we all need to adjust our thinking when presented with new data. The final weeks of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs have provided exactly that. What do you think? Anyone on this cap sheet you would keep or ditch?