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:
1. Sign a FA (or multiple FA’s), likely in overpays, to one year deals. This has been the plan to this point and it’s produced nothing, but options remain. Maybe Dion Waiters is an option for a 1-year, $15 or $16 million deal (Update: Waiters re-signed with the Miami Heat for 4 years/$52 million). Maybe the team takes a chance on Rondo. The team can bring back Tyler Ennis. Maybe they reach out to veterans Arron Afflalo or Tony Allen. If Jamal Crawford ends up being bought out by the Hawks, reach out to him. There are options out there, some better (or worse) than others. I think as long as the team is honest about this being a rental, they can figure something out which could be beneficial in some way (even if it offers drawbacks too).
2. Do nothing and roll over their cap space into the regular season. Yes, the team has to fill out its roster with a few more players, but if those guys are minimum level players or G-League guys or training camp invites who show an aptitude for what Walton and his staff are teaching, snatch them up. But don’t sink big money into a guy just to say you signed someone. Unless the team signs Waiters, there’s little chance they actually pick someone up who is of starter quality and brings a needed skill set to a team with holes in multiple areas. If that’s the case, why spend the money at all?
3. Try to seek out trades to absorb salary into your cap space. We often look at cap space as a mechanism for FA’s only, but that’s not its only use. The Lakers have, in the past, used space to absorb unwanted salary while gaining an additional asset (usually a draft pick) in the process. How willing a team would be to do this is unknown, but some teams will surely have incentive to dump money based on future financial outlooks:
We could have half of the NBA in the luxury tax next summer.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 3, 2017
I don’t know if a team like Toronto would be willing to trade Cory Joseph — who has a team option for 2018-19 (something that might worry the Lakers too, by the way) — but I’d make that call and ask. Are the Nuggets looking to shed any of their lower priced players in order to open up space to sign another FA now? If so, maybe they’d give up Will Barton. The Celtics need to clear a small amount of salary to add Hayward, maybe a deal can be made with them. This is all speculation, but these are scenarios the Lakers should be (and, to be fair, probably are) exploring.
I think there are positives and negatives to each approach above and wouldn’t really be upset of the team went down any of those paths. Based on the talent available in free agency, I’d actively be looking at trade options — especially if Waiters goes somewhere else (he’s supposedly getting interest from the Knicks) as I just don’t see many other quality players worth spending on.
Whatever approach they take, though, I’m not going to sweat it too much. The team told us they were planning for 2018 now and once that plan was on the table, this summer became less meaningful from a team building perspective. And while the team has holes and needs to fill (remember Pelinka noted the desire to add shooting and defense), there’s only so much you can do when operating from the position the Lakers — willingly, I’ll add — put themselves in.