Right now, the Los Angeles Lakers are in the worst stretch in franchise history, missing the postseason six years in a row. That is more missed playoff appearances than the franchise had in its entire history leading up to the current run.
While most realistic fans did not expect an NBA Title this season, many were at least expecting to end that playoff drought with the arrival of LeBron James. However, James got hurt and it felt like everything else went wrong for the Lakers, who missed out on the playoffs.
Now, the front office is forced into a corner and has to bring in a superstar. That means even if they whiff on marquee names, the front office is going to have to make some sort of move just to bring in a star.
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This has led to speculation around the likes of Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and even DeMarcus Cousins. None of these guys are plan A but if push comes to shove, the front office will not hesitate.
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The more promising stars that Laker fans are hoping for are Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal. In particular, Irving and Beal have jumped out in recent weeks as the most likely additions for the Los Angeles Lakers.
This has some fans debating on who the Lakers should pursue. Should the team sign Irving to reunite him with LeBron or should the team trade assets to secure Beal?
Good Cop: In the history of sports, when has it ever worked out well for a team when they trade their superstar? Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors are in the Finals with him, the Thunder traded James Harden and now he’s a former MVP and they can’t escape the first round, the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth and started an 86-year curse. Should I go on?
It would take Kyrie Irving accepting a small pay cut in order to do this but it would not be a substantial cut and certainly would mimic past stars who have done this in order to bring in another star.
The package that we are going to hypothetically send to the Washington Wizards has to include both Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to make this work. It might seem like a lot, but both Irving and Beal are upgrades from those two and are young still, so it would not be significantly hurting the team in the long-term.
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The trade would be something along the lines of Ball, Ingram, the fourth overall pick and Moritz Wagner for Bradley Beal. Maybe the Lakers can get a pick swap for the future to ensure that they get some draft value in return, or perhaps they can swap picks this year.
Either way, the core three of Ball Ingram and Wagner have a combined cap hit slightly over $18 million. We will round down to $18 million. Bradley Beal has a cap hit of $25.4 million next season, meaning the Los Angeles Lakers are adding just $7.4 million in payroll to the cap.
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Now after some basic math based on the remaining Lakers’ salaries and the $109 million cap allocations, the Lakers would have around $34.3 million in cap space remaining.
Kyrie can either take a deal in the $33 million range or could sign something around $30 million, leaving the Lakers $4.3 million to sign a free agent that is not on a veteran minimum. With the veteran minimum not affecting the cap, the Lakers can then go over and fill out a roster.
Good Cop: That, my dear friend, is incorrect. The Lakers aren’t too far gone where they can’t fix these problems with a couple of personnel decisions and some free agent/trade market success. The Lakers will fix these problems this offseason.
Heck, or the Lakers could just not include Wagner in the deal and keep him in the rotation instead. Either way works.
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And the final result would be a starting five consisting of Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee (assuming he re-signs a veteran minimum contract).
On the bench, the Lakers would have Josh Hart, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, whoever the team brings in for that extra $4 million (or Wagner) and another veteran minimum guy. The depth could use some work, sure, but that starting five certainly is worthy of winning a title.
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If the Lakers get some luck, and manage their cap situation correctly, they could end this summer with a big three of Anthony Davis, LeBron James and another star.
And yet, the Lakers enter the offseason with a substantial amount of cap space, a horde of young players, all of their first-round picks, and a new, excited head coach who has said all the right things since being hired. In addition to the star-studded free agent class set to hit the market, Anthony Davis still (seemingly) wants to be traded to Los Angeles, meaning the Lakers could be in position to escape this disastrous summer in a better place than they started.
Assuming LeBron James completes some recruiting magic, and David Griffin comes to the conclusion that he cant convince Davis to stay in New Orleans, there exists the fantastical possibility that the team emerges with not one, but two more superstars to pair next to James next season. Lets consider the logistics of how that could happen.
Because the Lakers project to be under the cap, meaning theyll be using their cap space and not any exceptions to sign free agents, they dont technically need to send matching salary to New Orleans in order to acquire Davis. Theoretically, they could offer Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and the no. 4 pick in the upcoming draft (note: I dont actually believe this is a trade package the Pelicans would accept — its merely a placeholder for the purposes of having this discussion) and take back the 26-year-old star.
The fourth pick is arguably — depending on how much Griffin likes Ball or Kuzma, or even Brandon Ingram, etc. — the teams best asset, especially if New Orleans gets to decide who to take with that selection. Unless the two teams are in talks before the draft, and L.A. chooses the player on the Pelicans wish list, this draft pick loses some of its value after June 24. Therefore, the purpose of making a trade for Davis before the draft would be to entice New Orleans with a shinier toy: the opportunity to have two of the top-five picks in the 2019 draft.
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However, if the Lakers make a trade before the draft, that by definition would have to come before free agency. That means that the team would lose some of its cap space that it has earmarked for a max-contract superstar.
As it stands, Los Angeles can get to about $32.5 million of cap room this summer if they renounce all of their veteran free agents, let go of Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones, and retain Alex Caruso. Depending on your preference, keeping Caruso or Jones essentially amounts to the same roster charge.
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A player with 7-to-9 years of experience in the NBA, i.e. Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, or Kawhi Leonard, is eligible for a maximum contract that starts at 30 percent of the cap. That cap projects to be $109 million next year, so a max deal for this level of player would start at $32.7 million in 2019-20.
Taking a tiny discount wouldnt be unprecedented. Recall that when James joined the Miami Heat alongside Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in 2010, the trio all took a small haircut so that the team could sign more bench players. Theyre probably very grateful that they ended up with Shane Battier and Mike Miller.
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However, if the Lakers acquire Davis before free agency officially starts, they will assuredly be sending out less salary than Davis makes. For reference, thats about $25.4 million before his 15% trade kicker, which he will have to waive to get to Los Angeles. That means that their tenuous grasp on a max salary slot will slip away and they will have to convince free agents to take a more significant discount in order to play next to James and Davis.
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Maybe the potential of a big three is enough to settle for less money. More than likely, though, such a move would force the Lakers into a different aisle at the grocery store, shopping for Danny Greens instead of Kawhi Leonards.
If Los Angeles can instead sign a free agent with their existing cap space, they could make then trade with the Pelicans after July 1 (or whenever that deal is signed). That would require aggregating most of their young players to send to New Orleans, but it wouldnt really matter at that point if the Lakers had a trio of superstars to show for it.
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The free-agent plan also is preferable, because if the Pelicans decide not to move Davis to Los Angeles, then the Lakers secondary pieces are their existing young players: Brandon Ingram, Ball, Kuzma, and Josh Hart. If they make the trade for Davis and dont get another star, then theyre forced to overpay veteran role players and have a bare cupboard of assets for when James eventually retires or moves on. Signing a free agent also uses the cap space that was created by the DAngelo Russell trade, so that asset doesnt go to waste.
Lets be clear: the Lakers dont really have a choice in the matter. If Davis becomes available, they have to go for him. If the aforementioned free agents subsequently dont come to Los Angeles because they want more money, theres still a decent team to be made with guys like Danny Green, JaMychal Green, and Bojan Bogdanovic.
The point is that there is an avenue for the Lakers to strike gold and get two superstars this offseason, provided they schedule their transactions correctly. The likelihood is low that any one of these individual outcomes will happen, and even lower that theyll happen collectively, but the path exists.
After everything that has transpired within this organization since the last game of the regular season, the team doesnt have anything left to sell but hope. Fortunately, from a purely mechanical perspective, there is still reason to dream.
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