- Kobe Bryant ($25,000,000)
- Nick Young ($5,219,169)
- Julius Randle ($3,132,240)
- Ryan Kelly ($1,724,250)
Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds
- Vander Blue ($1,147,276) — $1,147,276 qualifying offer4
Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds
- Carlos Boozer ($22,120,000)5
- Jeremy Lin ($12,561,969)
- No. 2 pick ($4,252,600)
- No. 27 pick ($963,000)
- Wayne Ellington ($947,276)
- Wesley Johnson ($947,276)
- Ronnie Price ($947,276)
- 1st Round (2nd overall)
- 1st Round (27th overall)
- 2nd Round (34th overall)
- Guaranteed Salary: $35,075,659
- Non-Guaranteed Salary: $3,516,525
- Options: $10,100,602
- Cap Holds: $43,886,673
- Total: $92,579,459
It’s virtually impossible to win 16 championships in a 62-year span, as the Lakers did, without some measure of luck. It seemed as though fortune had turned on the purple-and-gold in the years since their 2010 title, but when the Lakers emerged from last month’s lottery with the No. 2 overall pick, it was perhaps a signal that the dark cloud over the team, epitomized by the franchise-worst record of this past season, was finally breaking up. It wasn’t the best-case scenario of winning the No. 1 overall pick, but with the Lakers reportedly having zeroed in on Jahlil Okafor and with Karl-Anthony Towns apparently having grown on Wolves coach/executive Flip Saunders, the Lakers might end up with their first choice, anyway. Certainly, it was far from the worst possible outcome, which involved the Lakers tumbling out of the top five and forfeiting their pick to the Sixers, a looming consequence of the ill-fated Steve Nash sign-and-trade. The Lakers still have to give up a first-round pick because of that trade, but given this year’s high pick and their chance to sign marquee free agents this summer, the pick they ultimately give up may well be outside the top 10, if not the lottery entirely.
A healthy return for Kobe Bryant would certainly help the Lakers to that sort of outcome. He was inefficient last season, but had precious little talent around him, and coach Byron Scott has promised to play him fewer minutes this time around to help keep him fresh and avoid injury. Okafor would likely be able to alleviate some of the scoring burden, as his well-developed low-post presence, a rarity in the NBA, never mind among draft prospects, would give the Lakers an unusual weapon and draw the attention of defenses away from Bryant and other offensive threats.
The Lakers didn’t really have a true center this past season, aside from Robert Sacre, and that no doubt contributed to the failure of a defense that was the league’s second least-efficient, per NBA.com. However, Okafor would be a long shot to help the Lakers in that regard, since his defense also leaves much to be desired. Towns is a better defender, though he lacks Okafor’s polish, and, in any case, rookies often struggle with NBA defenses no matter their reputations entering the league. The Lakers, with little hope of vaulting into title contention even with the resources and high pick in front of them, would be wise not to worry nearly as much about how their pick will fit with the 2015/16 roster as they do about how he’d fit for 2016/17 and beyond.
Others have greater upside than Okafor does, including point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and power forward Kristaps Porzingis, neither of whom played in college. That lends a sense of mystery to them, and while each seems capable of becoming a transcendent star, they both could well turn out to be busts. Mudiay is a versatile defender capable of making spectacular plays on offense that would no doubt endear him to Lakers fans still pining for “Showtime,” but his outside shot is a question mark, a red flag for any perimeter player nowadays. Porzingis can shoot and excel in transition, too, but he lacks strength and isn’t a strong rebounder, as his ESPN and DraftExpress profiles explain.
The Lakers can also trade the pick, though GM Mitch Kupchak has made that outcome seem like a longshot. Trades are unlikely to play a key role for the Lakers this summer, outside of the team’s apparent plan to explore deals involving Nick Young. Instead, the focus come July will be on nabbing the sort of marquee free agent the Lakers have missed out on the last two summers. Reports have linked the team to a litany of players mentioned in our most recent Free Agent Power Rankings. LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Greg Monroe and Goran Dragic have all reportedly been targets at one point or another this past season and likely will be again, at least to some degree, next month. Still, those names elicit doubt. Some have said the Lakers aren’t a viable option for the nonetheless difficult to predict Aldridge, who seems to favor Dallas for now. Gasol offers few hints but clearly loves Memphis, and the funk in which his brother seemed to spend his last few seasons with the Lakers probably isn’t the best advertisement within the Gasol family. Love keeps saying he’ll be back in Cleveland. Monroe’s link to the Lakers is probably the most tenuous, as the Lakers reportedly inquired with the Pistons about trading for him but haven’t emerged as a free agent suitor for the big man. Dragic apparently viewed the Lakers as a “perfect fit” at the trade deadline, but a stream of reports since then has made it seem as though he has no intention of leaving Miami.
Plenty more impact free agents exist beyond the top 10, but none is the sort of superstar who can take over the mantle from Bryant when he retires. Rajon Rondo seemed like that sort of player not too long ago, but his ill-fated tenure in Dallas showed that he’s not in that echelon anymore. The Lakers have seemed destined to sign Rondo, a favorite of Bryant’s, though they’ve cooled on him and Bryant’s wishes aren’t necessarily the Lakers’ command, as Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding detailed. No team is planning a max offer for the point guard, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote in late April, so the Lakers may well end up with him at a reasonable price by default.
It might be mutually beneficial for both sides to consider a one-year deal. The torn ACL Rondo suffered in January 2013 clearly has had a long-term negative effect on his game, but his stock probably isn’t going to get much lower than it is now, after an apparent mutual parting of ways between him and the Mavericks midway through a playoff series. A one-year contract with the Lakers would give Rondo the opportunity to further the idea that his time in Dallas was simply the product of a poor fit and not a harbinger of sharply declining skill. It would lend the Lakers the chance to gamble on a talented player, improve in the short term, and retain flexibility for the free agency bonanza of 2016, when the salary cap is projected to take a skyward leap.
It would be wise for the Lakers to pursue short-term deals with others, too, with this summer’s marquee free agents seemingly difficult to lure. The opportunity to hit free agency again in 2016 as the cap goes up will surely be attractive to many players on the market, and the Lakers are in position to take advantage of this. Restricted free agents present a conundrum, since offer sheets have to be for two seasons, exclusive of any option years, and for three seasons if the incumbent team offers a maximum-salary deal. Still, a two-year offer sheet for Brandon Knight or Tobias Harris would allow those players to cash in come 2017, when preliminary projections show the cap taking another colossal leap, from $89MM to $108MM, and give the Lakers the chance at flexibility just as the cap heads into nine-figure territory. Speculation has linked Southern California native and former UCLA standout Russell Westbrook to the Lakers, and his contract is is set to expire in that same summer of 2017.
Still, such dreams are far in the distance. The Lakers must also decide on several of their own players with options and non-guaranteed contracts this summer, not to mention a half dozen soon-to-be free agents. Clarkson isn’t going anywhere on a minimum-salary deal that looks like a bargain after his successful rookie season, and the Lakers are reportedly likely to keep Sacre and guarantee his minimum salary. However, Jordan Hill‘s $9MM team option seems too pricey, particularly with Julius Randle returning to health and specter of a big man coming in via the No. 2 overall pick. The Lakers and Ed Davis, who intends to opt out, appear to have mutual interest in a new deal, and while the Lakers surely have their limits with him, he’s another big man who looms as a threat to squeeze out Hill.
A busy summer is ahead for the Lakers, and while fortune may again be on their side, they’d truly have to luck out to vault back into contention in a single summer. It’s nonetheless a reasonable goal for the Lakers to at least compete for a playoff berth. Winning is seemingly the most attractive quality a team can have in the eyes of top-flight free agents these days, but the Lakers probably don’t have to win quite as much as other franchises do to have an equal amount of cachet on the market. Making the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference would be a tall order for the Lakers if they don’t sign a top-10 free agent this summer, but even falling a few games short would represent tangible progress. The Lakers have seen their winning percentage drop with each successive season the past four years, so stopping that free fall should be a priority. Thanks to the bouncing lottery balls, the Lakers are in a strong position to bounce back.
1 — Sacre’s salary would become fully guaranteed if he remains under contract through June 30th, as is reportedly likely to happen.
2 — The cap hold for Hill would be $13,500,000 if the team turns down its option on him.
3 — The cap hold for Davis would be $947,276 if he opts out, as he intends to do.
4 — The cap hold for Blue would be $947,276 if the team elects not to tender a qualifying offer.
5 — Boozer’s cap hold will be the lesser of $25.2MM and the league’s maximum salary for a player with 10 or more years of experience. It’ll almost certainly be the latter, since the max is estimated to come in at only slightly more than $22MM. So, the estimated max is listed above.
The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post.