What’s Mitch Kupchak doing these days?

Zephid —  December 6, 2009

First off, sad news about Greg Oden losing this season to a fractured patella.  Much as I dislike the Blazers, sports-hate only goes so far (I feel so dirty using a Bill Simmons term).  We Laker fans can sympathize with seeing your young big man go down for the season; it’s a feeling like a punch to the gut that won’t go away.  Best wishes to Oden and a quick, full recovery.

Now, I wonder: after a pretty busy summer, it seems like Mitch Kupchak has it pretty easy these days.  However, I wanted to take a look at what is potentially on his plate and I came up with three things: getting Kobe to sign a contract extension, shedding salary, and bringing in someone to improve the bench play.

1.) According to the LATimes, the Lakers have offered Kobe a max extension, which he summarily rejected.  In a recent article for the NYTimes, Larry Coon tells us that this was probably the smart move, given that the CBA will expire in 2 years at which time the formula for the calculation of maximum salary (Kobe’s salary) may be decreased.  All signs point to Bryant coming back to LA (he’d be pretty crazy to leave), so it’s just a matter of when and at what price.  Perhaps we should just take our minds off it with another look at the ridiculousness from Friday night.  Boy am I glad I didn’t go to bed early.

2.) Going along with our recent discussion of the Taco Unit (love the name, btw) and Adrian Wojnarowski’s couple lines about the Lakers FO wanting to cut salary, I figured I would also take a look at his options to purely cut salary.

Disclaimer: There will be no overt trade speculation allowed in this thread.  This means no statements in a form isomorphic to “the Lakers should trade Player X for Player Y.”  In short, I want to limit the discussion of players.

According to Wojnarowski, Mitch Kupchak is looking to cut salary from the Lakers monolithic $91, 377,313 pay roll.  Frankly, I wouldn’t blame the FO is this was the case.  With a pay roll that size, I can imagine Dr. Buss staring at his poker funds while sitting at some table second-guessing an all-in decision.  He has already shelled out a ton of cash for the team; asking much more of him is just greedy.

So what does this mean for potential trades?  Well, it means that the Lakers are looking to send salary to other teams without taking back salary in exchange.  There are two ways to do this: First, trade to a team with cap space like was done last year with Chris Mihm being sent to Memphis.  Second, trade with a team over the cap that has a large enough Traded Player Exception and is willing to part with it in exchange for a player.

The first option is a little bleak.  The salary cap is currently $57.7 million and according to HoopsHype.com, only 4 teams are under that level: New Jersey (56.7), Portland (56.7), Memphis (54.7), and OKC (52).  New Jersey doesn’t want to take on any more salary because they want cap room for the Bonanza of 2010, Portland’s only intent seems to be moving Andre Miller, and OKC has been extraordinarily frugal during this time of recession.  So unless Chris Wallace feels like helping out the Lakers (*coughagaincough*), I don’t see the FO going this route.  (Note: in the event that one of these teams does accept one of our players for “free,” they do have to give us something in return.  This is usually the form of a heavily protected 2nd round pick, similar to what we received in the Mihm Trade.  Also, we would probably have to shell out some cash to help pay the outgoing player’s salary ($3 mil max), but this will still save us money due to luxury tax payments doubling all of our salaries at this point.)

As for the TPE option, I did a little searching and it turns out that ShamSports.com has an excellent list of Traded Player Exceptions by team, including name, monetary value, and expiration date.  Of these, the only teams with large enough TPE’s ($4 mil if you want to trade away one of our $5 mil players) are: Miami (Banks), New Orleans (Butler), and Orlando (Turkoglu).  Of these teams, New Orleans wants to cut salary now (because they kinda stink and are way over the tax line), and Orlando’s payroll is comparable to ours.  So in other words, we’ve got one potential dance partner (Miami), and they’re definitely not taking on any contracts that extend beyond this year.  (Note: According to Larry Coon, TPE’s cannot be combined.  So even if Chicago wanted to take a a hot, heaping, steaming pile of Adam Morrison, they wouldn’t be able to with just their TPE’s.)

So what’s the rub?  Even given that Mitch Kupchak has made the bench available basically for free, the number of teams that would actually take one of them without us taking any salary in return is very, very small (by my count, 2).

3.) That brings us to the last point: improving bench play.  This may involve trading some of our current Taco Unit guys and maybe even rotation players like Farmar, ShanWOW, and maybe even Fisher.  However, for each person we send out, we would either have to sign another player for a minimum contract, or receive at least as many players in return.  This makes trading Mbenga or Powell pretty pointless, considering they make the minimum and we would have to replace them with a live body anyway, ruling either of them out.  Luke is still hurt, and I’m pretty sure most teams wouldn’t want him for $20 mil over 4 years, so he’s out as well.  And as I said before, no one wants Sasha, even for free.  Most teams would probably rather take a swig of elephant poop juice than take on Sasha’s contract (and Sasha’s play, for that matter).

For me, that leaves us with 4 potential assets that we can move: Derek Fisher’s expiring contract, Ammo’s EC, Farmar, and ShanWOW.  I’m pretty sure we would all riot and storm the Staples center if Kupchak traded ShanWOW, so that rules him out.  Fisher also seems like he’d be tough to lose, considering he knows the system and is a great locker room guy (However, if he’s willing to get traded, take a buy-out, and wait 30 days without flapping his mouth, Jerry Stackhouse-style, there is potential for a great trade for us).  Farmar has also been playing pretty well over the past few weeks, and it’ll be really hard on Fisher for us to part with his primary back-up without bringing someone back to take off some of the load.  So that leaves us with Ammo’s EC.

So what can we do with Ammo’s EC?  First, it is somewhat unlikely that we’ll trade an EC for an EC: one team is going to end up screwed because salaries have to be within 25% of one another.  However, I could see someone wanting to send us a more talented player with a larger EC (say around 6 mil) in exchange for Ammo, saving them some $2 mil this year in salary and luxury tax payments (this kinda defeats the purpose of wanting to cut salary, so it’s also unlikely that Mitch would do this unless he gets an offer he can’t refuse).  However, it is much more likely that we would have to trade Ammo in exchange for some player with a multiple year contract.  If we do this, we’ll end up taking on just as much salary next year as we did this year, which doesn’t seem like it would float Dr. Buss’ boat. So the Lakers may be better off just eating Ammo’s salary this year and letting his contract expire off their books.

In summary, if Mitch is really serious about cutting salary, he’s got his work cut out for him.  Then again, I thought trading VladRad’s contract would be impossible, and Mitch turned him into Ammo’s valuable EC and ShanWOW, so I guess you can’t really rule out anything in this league.

P.S.: According to Kurt, Lamar and ShanWOW are not included in Mitch Kupchak’s “Free Bench Players” Giveaway.