It was one of the most common refrains of Laker fans and management last year â€” â€œJust wait until 2007 when we clear out some cap space.â€ Allow me to translate that: â€œJust wait until 2007 when we donâ€™t have to pay Brian Grant $15 million a year to be a washed up power forward forced to play center.â€
Then came a ray of light from the new CBA â€” the Lakers may be able to dump Grant now. The new CBA is allowing a one-time only chance to waive players with bloated contracts â€” you still have to pay them and they still count against the salary cap, but they donâ€™t take up any space on the roster and, most importantly, they donâ€™t count against the luxury tax (which next season likely will be at a threshold of about $60 million, a figure the Lakers are over). Waiving Grant could save Jerry Buss as much as $30 million in the next two years, which from his perspective may make it seem like a no-brainer.
But if he does it he will set the franchiseâ€™s rebuilding back.
The reason the Lakers have and will struggle to get top players in trades (ala Baron Davis) is that most teams want expiring contracts back. What the trading team is trying to do is send off a valuable asset and his big price tag for players that will be gone come the end of the next season so they have money go after players they think better fit whatever rebuilding plan they have.
In recent years, the Lakers have had few expiring deals to dangle, but this year they finally have a few â€” Chucky Atkins, Devean George, Vlade and more. But next year, Brian Grant is the big chit. Here is $15 million in salary a team can trade for and then kiss goodbye at the end of the season â€” teams will give up a fair amount of talent to get something like that.
Waiving Brian Grant and watching him walk out the door (likely to pay for pennies somewhere else in the limited minutes backup role he should be in anyway) will save Dr. Buss a lot of money, and itâ€™s easy for me to say not to because itâ€™s not my money being risked. And I know keeping Grant is a risk, it ties up a roster spot this season and there is no guarantee you will be able to make a trade next year.
But, just like drafting Andrew Bynum was a risk now for a potential big payoff down the line, keeping Grant is the same type of move. Send him off and save money, but keep him and next summer, or maybe right before the trading deadline in the 06-07 season, you may very well get a big payoff. A payoff that will make the Lakers contenders again a lot sooner.
One final quick thought on Andrew Bynum. I wrote this about Gerald Green in a pre-draft preview:
Hereâ€™s my thing with high schoolers â€” itâ€™s more about their mental makeup. Theyâ€™ve got to have the physical skills or they wouldnâ€™t be considered, but does the kid have maturity about him and a good work ethic? Kobe did. Garnett did. LeBron did. You get the idea. I donâ€™t know about Green, but the Lakers need a good answer to this question first.
I donâ€™t know about Bynum either, but I like what Iâ€™ve heard from him so far.