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 currently projected to be $119 million in the summer of 2022, per Spotrac, the Lakers currently will have no cap space in next offseason’s free agency period as currently constructed. The Lakers can still exceed the cap to re-sign some of their own free agents that they have Bird Rights on, with veteran’s minimum contracts and so forth, but this team does not have a ton of wiggle room to add to the roster.
That’s largely a function of how the Lakers chose to build, prioritizing the assembly of their own big three above the ability to add more expensive types of role players. With Russell Westbrook (player option worth approximately $47.1 million) LeBron James ($44.5 million guaranteed) and Anthony Davis ($37.9 million guaranteed), to paraphrase Gene Hackman, the Lakers’ team is on the floor. Just between those three players — provided Westbrook opts in as expected — that is around $129.5 million in committed salary, putting the Lakers comfortably above the cap.
And even beyond the Big 3, the Lakers also have a little over $15 million combined committed to Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn, the latter of whom could also opt out of his player option to seek a larger deal elsewhere if he has a strong year.
Essentially, if they want to add difference makers this summer, it will require some creativity and/or players taking discounts.
Below is the team’s full salary sheet, courtesy of Basketball-Reference:
There are a few ways the team could free up a sliver of space, however. None of this to say that any of these scenarios are particularly likely or realistic, but here is how the Lakers could get some more wiggle room.
Russell Westbrook unexpectedly declines his $47.1 million player option, Kendrick Nunn decides to do the same with his own approximately $5.3 million one, clearing a huge chunk of change off the team’s books and leaving the Lakers with just $92.6 million in committed salary, freeing up nearly $30 million in cap room.
That seems exceedingly unlikely in the case of Westbrook, as it’s not clear where else he’d be getting almost $50 million from, but we have seen more and more players decline big, final-year player options to seek their own destination for sometimes surprising amounts of money in recent years (more on that in a minute), so it’s at least theoretically and logistically possible, if not particularly probable.
Russ Takes Less
If the 2021-22 season goes well enough that Westbrook wants to stay, and he also wants to do the team a favor to give them more wiggle room to reload around himself, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, he could decline the final year of his current deal with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge commitment to re-sign on a multi-year deal worth a similar amount or more, but stretching the cap hit out so that the team had a bit of space to play with in free agency.
The only problem is that there isn’t necessarily a realistic number that would actually free up more space for the Lakers next summer. Just for example, if Westbrook opted out and re-signed on similar money that DeMar DeRozan got in 2021 free agency (three years, $81.9 million, average of $27.3 million a year) that would not actually free the Lakers up any cap space due to their existing commitments to James, Davis and Horton-Tucker — plus Westbrook’s new number — still leaving them at approximately $119.9 million in guaranteed salary in that scenario.
Now, maybe Westbrook would take less than that, but this is just to illustrate how much less he’d have to take annually than what he’s simply already owed next year just to even put a meaningful dent in the team’s cap situation.
We will be keeping this story updated with salary information, potential cap scenarios and other analysis, so bookmark it to stay up to date on everything you need to know about the Lakers’ salary situation.