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
|Lakers 2023-2024 Salary Cap|
|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|
|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|
|2023 SRP (+$21k to get 3rd year)||$1,102,929|
|Cole Swider or vet min||$1,102,929|
|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 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 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.
- 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.