Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss told Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register the team has intentionally designed most of its contracts to end in 2014, when Kobe Bryant's deal is also up and LeBron James and other stars can become free agents. Ding's report adds further credence to Brian Windhorst's ESPN.com story that quotes a general manager from an unidentified team as saying "It's not a mistake" the Lakers' deals all end at the same time. The plan, Buss said, is to "make a big splash in the free agent market."
"We would basically, money-wise, be able to sign the top free agent – maybe even two," he said. "I don't know the numbers exactly, because we're not privy to what the cap is and how much room we have, but it's going to be close to two of the top free agents that year."
The only contract the Lakers have that extends past 2014 belongs to Steve Nash, who'll make $9.7MM in 2014/15. They envision having Dwight Howard around, too, as Ding points out, and if he's on a maximum deal he'd be making more than $22.5MM that season. That would mean a tight squeeze for two more maximum-salary players, but would certainly leave enough room for one.
Ding says if James opts in with the Heat for 2014/15, the Lakers could try to convince Bryant to play one more season and go after James again in 2015. There could also be other options in 2014 if James is unavailable, as Ding lists Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki and John Wall among the possibilties, though none seem quite as attractive as James. For a full list of 2014 free agents, check out our list here.
Getting the vast majority of the team's contracts off the books after 2014 could also save the Lakers plenty in luxury tax that they'd have to pay if they brought everyone back, especially since 2014 is when more dire penalties for taxpaying teams kick in under the new CBA. While it's conceivable the team could once more go over the tax threshold with a new group, they'd likely have to get under the cap to bring aboard James or another maximum-salary player, making it difficult to immediately become a taxpayer again.