After the recent Blake Griffin trade, the Clippers very openly stated that they were throwing their hat into the ring that is this upcoming offseason. With names like Lebron James, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, and Corey Brewer on the open market, who can blame them? However, their strategy is very similar to the also very publicly stated strategy that the Lakers are using and both teams will hope to be in the LeBron James sweepstakes if the superstar leaves the Cavaliers. This begs the question: which LA team is better equipped for free agency meetings this summer?
Lakers: Luol Deng, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle. These are the only three names that fans should concern themselves with regarding the 2018 off-season. Assuming that the team renounces the cap holds for Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and highly sought after Corey Brewer, the situation surrounding Deng, Clarkson, and Randle starts to get interesting. If the Lakers move either Clarkson or Randle at the deadline, but not Deng, the team will have ~$48 million in space, or as much as $60 million if they renounce Randle’s cap hold. If they are somehow able to trade Deng without taking back any future money, they will have about $78 million in cap space (note: this is impossible). Things get a little more complicated when stretch provisions are taken into consideration, but they are looking at between $36 million and $78 million in total cap space.
Clippers: Trading away Blake Griffin’s massive contract helps them out some, but the cap situation for the Clippers is dependent on a ton of variables. DeAndre Jordan isn’t likely to be on the Clippers books after the February 8th trade deadline, so we’ll take him out of the equation. Assuming they don’t take any salary back past this year in a trade for Jordan, the Clippers payroll sits at nearly $80 million, $21 million under the projected salary cap. That doesn’t quite leave them with enough to sign a max contract for any of the major free agents they wish to acquire. However, if Austin Rivers, Milos Teodosic, and Wesley Johnson all opt out of their contracts, that frees up an additional $25 million dollars, which could potentially be enough to bring in two max guys with backloaded contracts.
Lakers: The Lakers obviously have great young pieces on their roster, and assuming that none of them get traded away in salary dumps, free agents will be looking at guys like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma as the main players. While it’s obvious that those players have a future in the NBA, it may not be enough to attract the bigger name free agents to join the team given their need to win now. If the Lakers are to get a major free agent, they might have to get two of them to want to team up together.
Clippers: While the Clippers don’t have any great young pieces on their roster, they have guys like Patrick Beverly and Tobias Harris who are the type of players that big name free agents potentially would want to play with. They also have Danilo Gallinari, who when healthy is a fairly effective and high character player.
Lakers: We all know how many titles the Lakers have and what a storied franchise they are so I won’t delve into that. Let’s talk about how they’ve treated star players in the past though. Kobe Bryant, who was clearly on the downturn of his career, wanted to be a Laker for life. So they signed him to a very friendly, massive contract. Magic Johnson also has had a fantastic relationship with the franchise, which led to him becoming President of Basketball Operations. It’s clear that once you’re a Laker, you’re a Laker for life, and the franchise will take care of you.
Clippers: The Clippers aren’t a storied franchise, nor do they have any titles. They cover up the championship banners of the team they share an arena with. They also recently traded Blake Griffin, who they signed to a five-year extension in the offseason. Griffin wanted to be a lifelong Clipper and was told he would be in a free agency pitch in which the Clippers showed him his jersey floating into the rafters. Six months later, they traded him to Detroit. Why would anyone look at the Clippers and decide that they want to spend the next four years there after how they treated their franchise’s best player?
That to me is why the Lakers have an edge over the Clippers in this coming offseason. Nobody is going to go into a free agency meeting with the Clippers and be wowed by their pitch. They’re going to be thinking about Griffin in Detroit, and how his future could have gone differently had he not signed with the Clippers. The Lakers don’t have to worry about the Clippers competing for the guys that they target, the Clippers already took themselves out of the competition.