While the Lakers' payroll hovers around the $100MM mark this season and could potentially be even higher next year, the team doesn't have much long-term salary on its books. Kobe Bryant's contract ends in the summer of 2014, along with many of the other major Lakers deals. At the moment, Steve Nash is the only player the Lakers have under contract for 2014/15, at $9.7MM. Considering Kobe has talked about retiring after his current contract expires, opposing executives looking to the summer of '14 believe L.A. has big plans in store, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
"It's not a mistake that all those deals end the same year Kobe's does. They have probably been planning for their next phase for a while," one general manager told Windhorst. "The Busses and [Lakers GM] Mitch [Kupchak] are always thinking about the next big deal."
According to Windhorst, many executives around the NBA think LeBron James could be the Lakers' top target in 2014 if Bryant is really ready to retire. James is under contract through 2016, but has an opt-out clause that he's expected to exercise in 2014, even if he wants to remain with the Heat.
"LeBron is the best player in the league and he's making less than the max, so unless he's seriously hurt he's going to opt out in 2014, if only because I would assume he wants and deserves to get a true max," said one league executive. "Even if the Heat win the next two titles there's a feeling that LeBron is going to become a free agent in two years no matter what."
We're still nearly two years away from 2014's free agency period, so it's far too early to start seriously speculating about which players will land with which teams. However, as Windhorst writes, rival executives looking at long-term plans for their respective franchises are expecting the Lakers to be a significant threat in the summer of '14.