Every summer, one of the biggest questions for fans of every NBA team concerns how much salary cap space their team can free up to add players, either in free agency, or in trades. Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers are certainly no different, especially given this team’s proven track record of pulling stars out of their hat in the offseason.
And with the salary cap projected to be approximately $134 million for the summer of 2023, per the cap tracking website Spotrac, the Lakers are currently projected to have approximately $31-32 million in cap space at most during this offseason’s free agency period.
There is a catch, however. A whole lot of them, to be frank. That maximum would only be achievable if all the Lakers’ player or team options were declined, and if the Lakers renounced all Bird rights on outgoing free agents, etc.
Here are the players guaranteed to be on the books for the Lakers in the summer of 2023, barring a trade, per Spotrac:
- LeBron James ($49.9 million)
- Anthony Davis ($40.6 million)
- Jarred Vanderbilt ($4.6 million)
- Max Christie ($1.7 million)
The series of deals the Lakers made at the 2023 trade deadline make all of this far, far more difficult to project. For one, Malik Beasley has a $16.5 million team option that would go some way in determining if the Lakers will have cap space next season. Jarred Vanderbilt is due $4.6 million, but theoretically, only $300,000 of that is guaranteed, according to cap expert Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. If the team really was adamant about getting him off the books, a trade would be pretty easy.
Similarly, Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million figure is non-guaranteed. Davon Reed also has roughly $2.1 million due next season (which is also non-guaranteed).
Rui Hachimura also drastically impacts the amount of cap space available. As a restricted free agent, Hachimura’s cap hold for the upcoming summer will be $18.8 million, assuming the team extends a qualifying offer to him which certainly appears to be the plan.
Then, you have D’Angelo Russell and his impending free agency. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but the Lakers are already putting out signals that they’re interested in keeping him in purple and gold.
It’s unclear what his projected contract would be, but he’s eligible for a 30% max contract, which would come out to roughly $40 million in the first year of the deal and escalate each year after that. No one will impact the Lakers’ potential cap space more than Russell.
All of this is likely why Danny Leroux of The Athletic is among those projecting the team to operate in the luxury tax next season.
The Lakers can still exceed the cap to re-sign some of their own free agents that they have Bird Rights on, or with veteran’s minimum contracts and so forth. For example, they can’t use Bird Rights to re-sign players they have already renounced, i.e. if they wanted to free up max possible cap space and renounced Austin Reaves’ cap hold, they cannot then go back and go over the cap to re-sign him.
The Lakers could still get to that $31 million figure if they simply did not extend or withdraw qualifying offers to Rui, Reaves, renounced D’Lo entirely, turned down Beasley’s team option and waived Reed and Bamba’s non-guaranteed deals. That also includes renouncing Dennis Schröder, Lonnie Walker IV, Wenyen Gabriel and Troy Brown Jr.
Ultimately, that’s a lot of work just to get to a $31 million figure that doesn’t even really guarantee you much, as that’s not even enough for a 25% max player. It was perhaps a more attractive option when Russell Westbrook accounted for so much of the Lakers' salary cap, but spreading that number out to a number of useful players makes it a less appealing option.
There’s also a Kyrie Irving-sized question that’s going to loom over the team after their most recent pursuit of him and considering he will also be a free agent. Our friends over at Mavs Moneyball broke down the types of contracts that Irving could be in line for this summer, including if the Lakers cleared the books of everyone but LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Perhaps the more realistic option would be a sign-and-trade that involves both Irving and D’Lo as something that might satisfy both teams’ potential desires this summer in that scenario. If things don’t work out for Russell in Los Angeles (again), the Lakers can use him as a sign-and-trade chip potentially to recoup some value... or go star-chasing for yet another summer.
There’s also a Hachimura situation to deal with this summer, too. The Lakers could sign him to a contract for lower than that $18.8 million figure that will be his cap hold. While Hachimura’s camp may want a deal starting in that range, it’s highly unlikely he’ll get his wish barring an incredible second half of the season. Instead, his deal would likely come in somewhere closer to $10 million to $15 million, opening up somewhere between $16 million to $21 million in cap space, depending on what the final contract comes out to.
In remaking their roster, the Lakers now have a LOT of decisions to make and options to weigh heading into the offseason. No longer is this as simple as getting off Westbrook’s contract and using that money elsewhere. It’s a much better problem to have, but it’s a lot of moving parts now for the Lakers.
We will be keeping this story updated with salary information, potential cap scenarios and other analysis as the team continues to overhaul its roster, so bookmark it to stay up to date on everything you need to know about the Lakers’ salary situation.
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