I have openly wondered whether or not the Lakers would make another move in this free agent period. My hope, of course, is that they will. In order to sign another impact player, however, it’s important to understand what tools the team still has in their bag to accomplish this goal. With that in mind, I did some research on the Lakers’ cap situation to try and sort out exactly where they stand and what they can still do to improve the roster.
As of Monday, the Lakers have financial commitments — either already on the books or verbally — to nine players. Below are those players and their salary cap numbers (please note that these numbers are pretty rough, but should get us in the ballpark of where the team is payroll wise):
- Kobe Bryant – $23.5 million
- Steve Nash – $9.701 million
- Jeremy Lin – $8.374 million
- Jordan Hill – $6.770 million (cap hold; salary will go up to $9 million once contract is signed)
- Julius Randle – $2.497 million (100% of his slotted salary spot; will go up to $2.997 when his contract becomes official)
- Nick Young – $915K (cap hold; salary will go up to at least $4.5 million in the first year of his contract, could be higher)
- Ryan Kelly – $1.016 million (this is the amount of Kelly’s qualifying offer that made him a restricted free agent)
- Robert Sacre – $915K
- Kendall Marshall – $915K (non-guaranteed salary)
If the Lakers were to renounce the rights to all the other free agents they have on their roster, they would also add cap holds in the form of $500K each for four additional players to bring them up to the minimum roster of 13. Add all these numbers together, including the aforementioned $500K and the Lakers are roughly — again roughly — at a payroll of $55.877 million*. The salary cap for next year is $63.065 million, leaving the Lakers about $7.5 million in cap space.
Of that $7.5 million, Nick Young’s salary eats up a major piece of it. Remember, until he is signed, he is only on the books for the amount of his cap hold. After Young’s salary, the rest of the money is slated to go to Jordan Hill who, like young, will be paid more than the amount of his cap hold. So, basically, the Lakers don’t have any cap space.
Not so fast.
Due to Jordan Hill** not yet signing, the Lakers actually do have cap space. As mentioned above, the difference between his cap hold and his starting salary next season is about $2.3 million. As long as Hill remains unsigned, this difference is cap space the Lakers have at their disposal. Also important is that the Lakers have Hill’s Bird Rights. This means they can go over the salary cap to sign him to his contract as long as they never renounce his free agent rights (meaning his cap hold will remain on the Lakers’ books).
What does this mean? It means that the Lakers have a little bit of wiggle room to chase another free agent. That, however, could be a bigger chunk of room if the Lakers take one last step: waiving Steve Nash via the “stretch provision”. This provision would allow the Lakers to spread out Nash’s salary this season over 3 years, reducing his cap figure to a shade over $3.2 million this season and opening up an additional $6.468 million in cap space.
Suddenly, the Lakers would have around $9 million to chase a free agent. This is not a small number and could, potentially, land a very good player (Lance Stephenson?) or two good, rotation players.
Of course, the Lakers would need to be willing to take the hit on Nash’s contract while essentially paying him to go away all while forfeiting cap space over the next two summers when they would be looking to add to the roster via free agency. Those scenarios inherently mean maximizing cap space and having Nash’s since expired deal still counting against the cap would be a drain. With the cap likely rising the hit wouldn’t be too severe, but it also wouldn’t be nothing.
When looking at this from every angle, I would be okay with using the stretch provision on Nash if the Lakers had a free agent commit to them who was worth it. The only target on the market I could see being worth this is Lance Stephenson since A). he’s an unrestricted free agent and once he commits there is no recourse from the Pacers to match (unlike Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe) and B). he is young enough where, if he can be had on a short 2 or 3 year deal (arguable if that is even possible) he can be a good asset in the short term who can be evaluated as a potential long term fit.
That is a lot of ifs and not a sure thing by any means. But the idea is worth exploring. The Lakers are in a position where they have used all their cap space and need to try and explore creative ways to generate more spending to improve the roster on the floor if they are really going to sell people that they are trying to compete for a playoff spot next season. Because as it stands now, filling out this roster with veteran minimum contracts after simply inking Young and Hill to their deals is highly unlikely to be a good team next year***.
*Thanks to Larry Coon and Eric Pincus for help in trying to sort out these numbers and the rules that the Lakers would be trying to navigate. Again, the numbers I have listed should not be taken as gospel, but they are in the ballpark and close enough that they are worth exploring.
**This is possible to do with Hill, but not Nick Young because the Lakers do not possess Young’s Bird Rights. They also need to fall below the cap to absorb Jeremy Lin’s contract, so Young’s salary must be paid out of cap space.
***There is a strong argument to be made that even by stretching Nash and adding Stephenson, the Lakers wouldn’t be good enough to make the playoffs, so why spend the money? I understand this sentiment and don’t entirely disagree. The West is a minefield and, just like last season, the odds are a good team (or more) miss the playoffs out West. The reason why I’d support signing a guy like Lance is because at some point the Lakers must actually add talent to their roster and build the foundation for a winning team. Lance is not a superstar, but he’s a good player. He has been a fixture of the Pacers’ best lineups the last two seasons and has excellent two way potential.
The Lakers need more players like him if they are to attract quality free agents. Don’t think of it as “will stars come to play with Lance Stephenson?” but rather “will stars come to play on a barren roster devoid of talented players?”. I think the answer to that question is “no” even with the Lakers’ brand and history making the pitch. At some point the Lakers need to start grabbing mid to upper-tier prospects — especially young ones — who can form the nucleus of a good team that superstars want to join or be the base of trades to acquire them.