No need to speculate anymore, the numbers are out. This afternoon, the NBA announced the salary cap figures for the 2010-2011 season, and the news was good for teams as the cap- $58,044,000- was about two million dollars higher than expected.
For teams chasing big free agents, it means a little more space and flexibility. For the Lakers, an extra couple mil doesn't do much good, since they nearly get to $58 million on the salaries of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum alone. The more relevant numbers in El Segundo were the exact value of the mid-level exception and the luxury tax threshold.
The Lakers have promised $4 million of their MLE to point guard Steve Blake, but at a full value of $5.765 million, they'll have $1.765 million left to apply to another player, should they so choose. As for the luxury tax, the line will be $70,307,000, about $400K more than last season, but hardly enough to provide substantive relief to Dr. Buss' wallet. Even before adding Blake's deal and an expected contract for Derek Fisher, the Lakers already have nearly $82 million in salary obligations to the seven players currently under contract (Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Sasha Vujacic, and Luke Walton). The Lakers were assessed, by almost $4 million, the largest tax penalty of any team last season (over $21.4 million) and will again have to bust out the checkbook for next year's squad.
All told, it paints a picture of why the Lakers seem cautious when it comes to adding more to the payroll. Their tax burden won't keep them from re-signing Fisher, and I don't think it's impossible for Shannon Brown to return as well, if the market for his services isn't quite as large as Brown hopes, keeping the price tag down. Nor do I think the Lakers would pass on a player genuinely felt to be an important part of a run for another title. They showed with Blake a willingness to spend most of their MLE, something some (not me) didn't think they'd do. But the numbers don't bode well for a guy like Josh Powell, who made about a million last year and could be replaced by a smaller money guy like second round pick Derrick Caracter (or a different minimum/near-minimum money player).
Anyone playing on L.A.'s summer team, though, should be emboldened. Same for guys who eventually are invited to camp. A combination of a good showing and low sticker price could be enough to earn a roster spot, something totally unavailable last season.