Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Lakers

Guaranteed Contracts


Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 2nd Round (48th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $68,103,755
  • Options: $9,277,280
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $2,250,000
  • Cap Holds: $41,830,880
  • Total: $121,461,915

Another year, another team waiting on Dwight Howard to make up his mind. In 2012, the Magic seemed stuck in limbo until they finally traded Howard to the Lakers. L.A. doesn't have that option, unless it can pull off a sign-and-trade somehow, and that would require Howard's consent. The Lakers could conceivably wash their hands of the big man and not make an attempt to re-sign him, but there's no reason to suspect they'll do that. The Lakers would like to have Howard back, even if Howard appears increasingly willing to sign elsewhere.

Given Howard's impact on a team, even when not fully healthy as he was this year, and his outsized salary, which will exceed $20MM next season if he gets a max deal, the Lakers essentially must formulate two plans: one with Howard, and the other without. With Howard, the Lakers are looking at a $100MM+ payroll for next season unless they unload some of their contracts via trade or amnesty. Even if keeping the current core intact is reportedly Plan A for the Lakers, I'm not so sure anyone in L.A. has the stomach to go through another season like this past one. The Lakers played much better in the second half of the season before injuries derailed them, but few considered them serious threats for the title even as they went 28-12 over their last 40 games.

Even if Kobe Bryant comes back at full strength to start the season, it's doubtful all the key figures from the end of 2012/13 will be with him. Antawn Jamison, a bargain at the minimum salary this year, isn't likely to return. Earl Clark had a Jekyll-and-Hyde season, and another team might be willing to overpay him based on the potential he showed in his moments of brilliance this year. Metta World Peace has an early-termination option that he'll reportedly decline, but even if he remains under contract, there's certainly no guarantee he'll be back with the Lakers, since the team could amnesty him to defray its tax bill or facilitate other moves.

World Peace, Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake are the four amnesty-eligible players on the Lakers, but each played a significant role for the team this season. The notion of amnestying Bryant has been a lightning rod for speculation ever since his Achilles injury at the end of the regular season made it conceivable that the Lakers would divest themselves of their pre-eminent star. The opportunity to clear nearly $30.5MM from the books, and even more from the team's tax bill, seems a tempting proposition even though GM Mitch Kupchak distanced himself from the idea in the wake of Bryant's injury.

An amnesty decision would have to be made between July 10th and 16th, long before Bryant's earliest projected return. The Lakers would have to let him go without having seen how the injury will affect his play, and perhaps without much more knowledge than they have now about exactly when he will return. Given Howard's trademark indecisiveness, it's conceivable that he'll still be weighing his options by mid-July, which complicates the amnesty situation even further. Even if they amnesty Bryant, the Lakers still wouldn't have enough room to sign a maximum-salary free agent unless they renounce Howard's rights or he signs with another team.

Trading Gasol would give the Lakers more flexibility. Gasol, if nothing else, could have value as a supersized expiring contract, though his improved performance down the stretch of the season demonstrated that he remains a threat on the inside. He has a 15% trade kicker, meaning he'd earn even more with another team than the $19.29MM he'll receive if he remains a Laker. Few teams will have that kind of available cap space to acquire Gasol without having to aggregate a boatload of outgoing salaries in return — salaries that would likely have to be attached to expiring contracts to interest the Lakers, anyway.

Salary Cap FAQ author Larry Coon examines the possibility that the Lakers could trade Gasol to the Rockets in an effort to accomodate deals for Howard and fellow marquee free agent Chris Paul. He finds that there's no reasonable scenario that would allow for the Lakers to offer max contracts to both Howard and Paul. So, if the Lakers trade Gasol, they would do so with lesser targets in mind, which might explain why the team seems to favor keeping the team, Gasol included, intact for next season. If Howard decides to sign elsewhere, the Lakers might be more likely to trade Gasol and amnesty Bryant or World Peace, since even the removal of Howard's cap hold probably won't be enough by itself to give the Lakers sufficient cap space to replace him.

There's no telling whether Bryant's injury affects his plans to let the Lakers know this summer whether he intends to retire after next season. Executive vice president Jim Buss has made no secret of his desire to go after marquee free agents in the summer of 2014, when LeBron James could hit the market again. The Lakers intentionally structured their contracts so none of them extend past next season, with the exception of Steve Nash's deal, which runs through 2015. The team seems poised to offer Howard a five-year deal that would take up some of its 2014 cap room, but beyond that, I'd be surprised to see them do anything this summer that compromises their flexibility for next summer. Bringing back most of last season's team won't stir excitement in Lakerland, but it's probably in keeping with the team's long-term plans.

Additional notes:

  • It might seem strange to see the names of long-retired players like Karl MaloneRon Harper and John Salley on the team's ledger, but that just demonstrates how long it's been since the Lakers had cap room. There's been no motivation for the Lakers to renounce their rights to those 40-somethings, since the Lakers are no longer actually paying them, and the extra cap space that clearing those holds would provide would only come in handy if the team had cap space to begin with. L.A. probably won't be clearing cap room until next summer, so Brian Shaw could still be listed as a cap hold even as he becomes head coach of another team. 
  • As a taxpaying team, the CBA no longer allows the Lakers to take on players in sign-and-trade deals, as they did with Nash last summer, but they can still send their own free agents out via sign-and-trades. That way, the Lakers might not come away empty-handed if Howard signs elsewhere, though as I noted above, he would have to give his consent to such an arrangement.

Storytellers Contracts and Sham Sports were used in the creation of this post.

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