Free Agency is less than a week away and the Lakers salary cap situation has been a major discussion point for the entire league after trading for Anthony Davis. The amount of cap space, however, is not entirely clear at this point due to several extenuating factors. In a post-draft podcast, Zach Lowe said that the amount of Lakers cap space should appear as a question on the LSAT — it’s that complicated right now.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to get into the weeds as to how much space the Lakers could have depending on the different scenarios at play. Some of this is repeat information, but it’s worth summarizing neatly in a single place for everyone who wants to know what’s what as the Lakers attempt to build out their roster for the 2019-20 season.
Before we dive in, we should quickly say that there are 2 main questions/variables at play now that we understand the Anthony Davis trade will be executed on July 6th: 1. Davis’ $4.1 million trade bonus 2. Expanding the Davis trade to include a 3rd team. The cap space scenarios below, then, will hit both of these topics and lay out the different outcomes based on how these factors play out.
There are two other factors at play here that you need to know. The Lakers have $5 million in “dead money” on their books due to the stretch and waive of Luol Deng. This money will stay on their books through the summer of 2022. There are also things called “cap holds” for empty roster spots when a team has fewer than 13 – we won’t get into these now, just know they exist. The Lakers could have as many as 9 of these and it impacts their cap space.
The last thing that must be said up front: Before any moves are made, and this includes the Davis trade, the Lakers have ~$32.1 million salary cap space. That is the starting point for this entire discussion. That number can/will change depending on the factors we lay out below.
Now, let’s get to it….
The $23.7 Million Scenario
Anthony Davis is owed a $4.1 million trade bonus. If he takes his bonus and the Lakers execute the trade for him as it is now, without including any other players on the Lakers roster, they will have $23.7 million in salary cap space come free agency. We get to this total because, due to the framework of the current deal, the Lakers are not sending out enough salary to make a legal trade, so they’ll have to use some of their cap space to absorb part of Davis’ salary. Add on Davis taking his trade bonus and that $32.1 million goes down by $8.4 million.
If ranking which scenarios are most to least likely, I’d imagine this is the most likely. Mostly because it means the Lakers were not able to recruit another max player to come play with LeBron and Davis, which is incredibly hard considering the number of suitors these players will have.
The $27.8 Million Scenario
See above, except Davis waives his trade bonus. If continuing my rankings of outcomes, this would come in last and the least likely to occur, in my opinion. I simply do not see a scenario where Davis waives his trade kicker without a commitment from a top-tier star to join him and LeBron.
The $25.4 Million Scenario
Here’s where we start to go down the rabbit hole some. This is the “Anthony Davis keeps his trade bonus, the Lakers don’t sign another max free agent, but also decide they no longer want Bonga/Wagner/Jones” scenario. Why would the Lakers do this? I don’t think they do, honestly.
However, the argument for going this route is if they want to be void of any young players who are not likely contributors for next season. What factors would go into that? Well, if they have intel that they can use that little extra bit of cap space and think they have the inside track on enough veteran ring-chaser types who will play for the minimum, they might value that more.
If ranking scenarios, however, I’d place this second to last because I think the Lakers would value the cost controlled contracts of players they just drafted over the uncertainty of signing more veterans at the minimum or with that little increase in cap space. After all, the Lakers will already have multiple roster spots open to veterans who are willing to pay for cheap and even if you do not think Wagner and Bonga will play much next year, they can continue to be developed as potential longer term roster pieces.
The $32.1 Million Scenario
Take all of the positives from the above and roll them into a single option and this is it. If Anthony Davis waives his full trade bonus and if the Lakers are able to expand the trade for Davis to include another team that is willing to take on Wagner, Bonga, and Jemerrio Jones, the Lakers can create up to $32.1 million in cap space. (Note: Jones’ contract, currently non-guaranteed, would need to be fully guaranteed and then shipped to the 3rd team in the deal.)
There’s a lot of if’s in the statement above, of course. And, for that reason alone, it cannot be the top option for these Lakers. That said, I am of the mind that if the Lakers do get that commitment, Davis will waive his trade bonus. Why? Because it’s in his best interests to do so even if it seems silly to say giving up that much money is in anyone’s best interests.
Remember, Davis is in Los Angeles, above all else, to win at the highest level. And while arguments can be made that the best way to win is to flank Davis and LeBron with high level role players, I do not believe star players think this way. I think star players look at environments like the All-Star game and Team USA as the ideal. It’s like stacking an AAU team and then running roughshod over your opponents. “Give me the best teammates and we’ll win.” Getting a Kawhi Leonard or a Kyrie Irving on board is worth it from their perspective (again, in my opinion).
There’s also the argument that Davis will make up this money through other avenues and endorsements — something that’s already happening via a recently announced partnership with Ruffles. I get that some people will never look at leaving money on the table as an option for a top player, but, again, players have actually done this a bunch — mostly when being bought out in order to get out of an unfavorable situation (sort of like Davis who has requested a trade). But I digress.
The last thing about this option: A key to having this much cap space is if the Lakers sign a free agent first and then trade for Davis. In every other scenario, the Lakers trade for Davis first, then sign free agents. In this scenario, however, the Lakers are sending out enough money in a trade to make it a legal deal under the collective bargaining agreement. With this being the case, the Lakers can use all the aforementioned $32.1 million in cap space and then execute a trade for Davis.
In the end, I can’t tell you how much money the Lakers actually will have. I also don’t know if they’re going to end up with another star level player. But, and I believe this wholeheartedly, the Lakers will have as much money as they need. And, if that’s the $32.1 million — which is slightly less than the max — that’s what they’ll have. I think if they get a commitment from a max level player, they’ll find a taker for Wagner/Bonga/Jones and will get Davis to waive his bonus.
Again, I don’t think this is the most likely scenario. That would be them ending up with the $23.7 million to recruit multiple free agents. But, with LeBron and Davis
tampering recruiting behind the scenes, nothing would surprise me at this point.
Thank you to our guy Reed for all his help in determining these cap figures. He has a Lakers cap sheet that he keeps online which was the primary resource used for this piece. Follow Reed on twitter and check out all the pieces he’s written for FB&G in his author archive.