The Lakers famously spent a boatload of cash this past summer on free agents Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. I have spilled countless words on those signings so I will not revisit the merits or drawbacks of either contract now. That said, one of the real consequences of those deals was how it impacted salary cap space for next season.
It was always assumed that if the Lakers were unable to secure commitments from top flight FA’s this July, they would simply roll over a large chunk of space, combine it with the cap jump scheduled for next summer, and try to ink two top-tiered free agents in the summer of 2017. The Mozgov and Deng deals ended those assumptions with large cash commitments. Add in the guaranteed deals of their young core and Lou Williams’ (not to mention Nick Young’s) contract and the Lakers might be close to not even affording a single max contract slot.
Zach Lowe, in his free agency winners and losers column, rationalized this type of spending thusly:
Everyone knew the Lakers, in this ragged state, would have a hard time convincing stars to join. No one envisioned a day when stars would cold-shoulder requests for a courtesy meeting in the league’s offseason capital.
With A-listers blowing you off, you can’t worry about hoarding cap space for two max contracts in 2017 — especially when any team can magic up cap space in a pinch.
I pretty much agree with Lowe’s reasoning here. The Lakers have long sat on their hands when the top-tiered guys have turned them down, favoring to acquire players on team friendly contracts where cap space could be preserved. This, ultimately, has not worked out in their favor. They did turn the pick sent over with Jeremy Lin into Larry Nance, but beyond that deal all the team has to show for their moves over the last few summers are a boatload of losses and the resulting lottery picks.
Well, now the team is interested in winning some games and the way to do that is to actually improve the team. Their hope is that they’ve done that this summer. It should go without saying, but time will tell if they’ve been successful.
Still, though, signing guys this past July should not mean a full abandonment of the previous strategy where cap space and financial flexibility are tucked away for the future. The hope is that in the next year, this team improves. And, if they do, they will need to have some left over cap space to combine with the summer of 2017 cap jump to be able to chase a top-level player.
According to Basketball Insiders Lakers’ salary page (which are maintained by Eric Pincus), the Lakers have structured the salaries of Mozgov, Deng, and Jordan Clarkson to decline in the 2nd season, opening up a bit of cap space in the process:
All totaled, the downward adjustments in salary are roughly $2.5 million in salary savings next summer. That might not sound like a lot of money, but consider the following:
- The league has adjusted their projected salary cap for the 2017-18 season from $107 million to $102 million.
- While max salary slots are based on the cap number, contracts already signed will hit the cap at there negotiated number.
- If the Lakers were to pick up all the options on all their players, they would only have about
$24$19 million in salary cap space next summer.
- This number can go up by not picking up the options on Tarik Black (estimated at $6.6 million), Marcelo Huertas (estimated at $1.7 million), or Anthony Brown ($1.01 million).
- This number can also be affected should the Lakers stretch or waive Nick Young (before this season or next summer) or by shedding salary in a trade of Lou Williams.
That’s a lot of numbers I just threw at you, but to make it simple: the Lakers may end up needing that full $2.5 million in savings next summer. A player with 10 years of service (
Russell Westbrook, for example*) can make up to 35% of the salary cap. It seems the Lakers could get to that amount by not picking up Black’s option and stretching Nick Young.
But if the Lakers hadn’t structured Clarkson, Mozgov, and Deng’s contracts the way they did, they may have also needed to not pick up the options on Brown or Huertas, or even looked into moving Lou Williams for salary savings to give them some extra space.
They should not have to resort to those options, however. And it’s all because of what looks to be a tweak to the 2nd year of those contracts.
*When this article was originally posted, I mentioned Russell Westbrook would be a 10 year veteran. That is incorrect. At the conclusion of next season Westbrook will have completed 9 seasons. Under the current CBA, he would be eligible for a max contract which is 30% of the cap. The rest of this post still applies, though I did tweak the available cap space number to account for Brandon Ingram’s deal which will likely be around $5 million for his 2nd season.