The summer of 2018 was a mixed bag for the Los Angeles Lakers.
On one hand, they signed LeBron James, the best player in the world and their first superstar since a way past his prime Kobe Bryant retired in 2013.
On the other hand, they filled out their roster with the likes of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Lance Stephenson abruptly lowering the ceiling that LeBron had raised with his decision.
The Lakers’ failures over the past year, despite signing LeBron, have made the coming summer all the more crucial with the 2019 NBA free agency period holding the power to erase nearly all previous mistakes or the power to change the whole complexion of the franchise if it does not succeed. They have already made the decision to trade much of their depth for Anthony Davis; now, the work of building a roster around him and James begins.
The Lakers are among several teams with high cap space and even higher aspirations. They are also one of the only teams who has dominated the news cycle with negative stories about its lack of stability.
Here’s all you need to know about the Lakers’ 2019 NBA free agency options whether they entail signing a third star or building a team of role players around the King and the Brow.
If the trade is finalized on July 6th, meaning the contract for the fourth overall pick is not included, the Lakers will have James, Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Jemerrio Jones, Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga all under contract. If Davis does not waive his trade kicker, as expected, that leaves the Lakers with just about $23.2 million in cap space. If Davis foregoes the bonus, the Lakers would reach closer to $27.5 million in space, just enough for a max contract for a player within their first seven years in the league.
Finalizing the trade 30 days after signing the 4th overall pick to a contract, however, would change the entire calculus of the offseason. Davis’ trade bonus would no longer be a factor as he would not be on the books until the team completes its other signings, maximizing its cap space. In that event, the Lakers would enter the free agency signing period with just over $32 million in cap space, barely shy of the 30% percent max for a player with seven to nine years of NBA experience.
Of course, even without the proper timing which has been reported as an oversight for the Lakers, the Lakers are able to create more cap space. They can do so by trading Wagner, Bonga and Jones (whose contract is nonguaranteed) without taking any players back, opening another $2.2 million in space. That could conceivably get the Lakers to about $30 million in space if Davis waives his trade kicker but with only three players under contract.
All of this math assumes that the Lakers renounce the rights to all of their free agents. However, if the team does not chase a third star (or fails to convince one to sign with them), it may make more sense to keep some of those contracts on the books. Reggie Bullock’s $4.75 million cap hold could be kept on the books to eventually go over the cap to sign the 3-point shooter using his Bird rights. The same is true regarding Mike Muscala although his cap hold ($9.5 million) is probably too much to swallow. Finally, both Alex Caruso and Johnathan Williams have $1.44 million cap holds as restricted free agents but the duo could be renounced and brought back on veteran minimum deals going over the maximum cap, as well.
Note: This math is completed using the projected $109 million cap space. That value may change slightly at the start of the new league year.
Because the Lakers will be using cap space to hit the salary cap this summer, they will really only have the room exception and minimum contracts to work with in order to go above the cap and fill out their roster.
The room exception is expected to be worth $4.8 million in the first year and it can be split between multiple players but only for a maximum of two years for each contract.
Next year, if the Lakers do not use their cap space to sign anyone and reach the cap after re-signing Davis using his Bird Rights, they would likely have their Mid-Level Exception, worth nearly $10 million a year, to use.
From now until the start of the 2019 NBA free agency period, we will be doing profiles on some of the notable names that could be connected to the Lakers this summer. These include the superstar free agents that the team will prioritize, major trade targets, and some of the lower level free agents who could be used to round out the team.