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Fans love summer league. Lakers fans, especially. The proximity of Las Vegas to Los Angeles makes the trek to sin city worthwhile for fans of the forum blue and the result is a packed Thomas and Mack center with fans chanting for Larry Nance Jr. or damn near rushing the floor when my favorite exiled guard hit’s a game winner. It’s a great environment and if you’re a fan of any NBA team — but especially a Lakers fan — making this trip at least once is worth your time.

This is even more true this year, when the Lakers will have a buzz surrounding them due to the arrival of Lonzo Ball and the return of Brandon Ingram. Add in Ivica Zubac and David Nwaba also returning along with Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma making their rookie debuts, the Lakers have six young players every fan is excited to see play — and one the players themselves should be confident in to do some damage.

That said, I’d also like to pump the brakes on printing your “Lakers 2017 Summer League Champs” shirts.

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July 4th has come and gone and, with that, some dominoes have started to fall. Gordon Hayward is a Celtic. George Hill is a King. As is Zach Randolph. Otto Porter signed a max offer sheet with the Nets and several other lower tiered free agents have also agreed to new deals. Of the eight players I covered in my free agency primer, only KJ McDaniels (#7) and Tyler Ennis (#8) remain unsigned.

This leaves the Lakers in an interesting, though not unpredictable place. Anyone with some foresight could have seen this exact scenario playing out.

The Lakers, strapped with good, but not great, cap space (a little over $16 million) and armed with only 1-year deals to offer voluntarily put themselves in a corner when negotiating with any target. JJ Redick signed a 1-year deal, but it was for $23 million — or about $7 million more than the Lakers have in total cap space. The team spoke with Hill about a 1-year deal, then he signed with the Kings for three years with an annual salary of $19 million. Even second tier targets like Justin Holiday and Darren Collison signed for two years. Omri Casspi was a player I wanted and he signed for 1-year for low dollars but did so with the world champion Warriors.

You see where I’m going with this. There’s really not a deal signed by FA’s to this point where the Lakers had any sort of an advantage in negotiations or where the final deal signed lined up at all with what the Lakers could offer.

So, what should the Lakers do with their cap space now? Let’s look at a few options:

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It’s July 4th and while Lakers fans are waiting for their free agency fireworks, they might just settle for some sparklers at this point. The team has been fairly quiet since the market opened, making contact with Andre Iguodala (stayed in Golden State) and Ben McLemore (signed in Memphis), had multiple conversations with Rajon Rondo (still unsigned), and have met with Dion Waiters and George Hill — who are both still on the market.

Hill is the best name among this group for what the Lakers need. He’s a point guard in name, but more of a combo guard in skill set. He’s a fine lead ball handler who can initiate the offense, run P&R’s, and create shots for himself and teammates (though this is not his best strength, to be sure). He’s also a very good off-ball worker, someone who can make spot up jumpers, understands spacing, and knows how to attack a compromised defense when the ball rotates to him and the opposition is in scramble mode.

Defensively he’s also an excellent player. He offers good size and length, has a keen understanding of opposing team’s tactics and habits, tracks his man and gets to his help responsibilities fluidly, and competes hard on that end. Due to his size and smarts, he can guard either backcourt position and not be overwhelmed. He’s not an all-NBA level performer on that end, but everywhere he’s been he’s helped make his team’s defense a top third of the league unit and while that’s a team stat, I don’t think you can dismiss Hill’s role in making that happen.

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The Lakers have been quiet in free agency through two days, having discussions with several players and waiving Tarik Black, but that’s about it. No signings, not even any face to face meetings with potential additions. That last part, at least, is going to change on Sunday night, however:

Waiters is a former client of Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, so the meeting makes sense if only looking at it from that angle. Of course, it makes sense on other levels too.

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While the Lakers have not been active in signing any outside free agents, they have made a decision to turn one of their own players loose onto the open market.

Black was scheduled to make $6.7 million next season, but the entire amount was non-guaranteed if he was waived before July 4th. This amount now drops off the Lakers’ cap, leaving them with roughly $18.7 million in cap space now.

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We told you that getting Paul George to the Lakers was going to be complicated and that the Lakers front office had now started to openly say that they did not expect to trade for him this summer. Well, that’s exactly how it’s played out with the Pacers deciding to trade George to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Yes, that’s the entire deal. No future draft picks, no elite young prospect. The Pacers took a return that mirrors what other teams have recently gotten for All-Star level talents and reflective of the weak leverage they were operating with.

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As we outlined in our free agency primer and our podcast on potential plans once July 1st hits, the Lakers’ plan to chase stars in the summer of 2018 impacts what they can do in free agency this summer. When you need every spare penny to sign two max salary players a year from now, whatever you spend now needs to be carefully counted for then.

Even if this wasn’t simple math, the front office came out and told us as much on Thursday. Mark Medina has the intel at the OC Register:

“We’ll be very strategic to keep the cap space in 2018,” Pelinka said after the draft. “We’ll be very sacred about that. We worked very hard to get into that position. So we’ll be smart in free agency.”

To be smart in free agency, the Lakers also have set their eyes on two realities. The Lakers are not expecting to acquire George from the Indiana Pacers amid their insistence on keeping Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. With their hopes set on George becoming available next summer, the Lakers want to pursue players who fit specific criteria that would accelerate the young roster’s development…

…But at what cost? The Lakers want to minimize multi-year contracts, but they are open to spending a bit more as a way to compensate for a one-year deal. As much as they want to attract elite stars again in 2018, the Lakers are also intent on acquiring veterans who will have a positive influence on their young roster.

First, let’s talk Medina’s last point about limiting 1-year contracts. As we’ve discussed plenty, this is to be expected.

The Lakers simply do not have the financial flexibility on their roster to add salary which runs through the summer of 2018 without having to cut that same money (and more) to open up the space needed to chase the stars they covet. Taking this approach will impact their negotiations and reduce the number of viable targets they can sign, which many in the local media are taking to mean the team simply will not be very active when the bidding opens at midnight eastern July 1st.

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In the latest Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete and I talk about the Lakers heading into Free Agency. We dive into team needs, how the summer of 2018 might impact this summer, players to target, and whether trades might be a better option than trying to sign a player outright.

We also get into the news of the day by getting into the Chris Paul trade and Phil Jackson’s dismissal from the Knicks. Click through to listen to the entire conversation.

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