The Los Angeles Lakers won their most recent NBA title in 2010, but the seven years since that championship have felt much longer for many fans of the purple and gold considering the team has experienced several of the worst seasons in franchise history during that time.
As the Lakers attempt to rebuild and return to past glory, there are various angles from which to analyze their future plans.
Lakers preparing for the summer of 2018
Los Angeles as presently constructed could have up to a projected $48 million in salary-cap space next summer. That number doesn’t include forward Julius Randle, whose cap hold of $12.4 million would eat into the Lakers' space if he’s still on the roster. There will also be other transactions between now and next summer, and the 2018-19 salary cap projection of $102 million could change as well.
While it’s likely that the Lakers continue their pursuit of trading for Paul George, don’t expect them to make a significant splash in free agency in the coming weeks. Los Angeles currently has $18 million in projected cap space this summer. And if the D’Angelo Russell/Timofey Mozgov trade before the draft was any indication, Los Angeles might avoid signing players to contracts that include guaranteed money past this upcoming season.
More likely, the Lakers could use their cap space this summer to sign players to one-year deals or two-year deals with a team option. Don’t be surprised if Los Angeles overpays a player to take such a deal.
As the Lakers position themselves to be major players in free agency a year from now, look for them to continue shedding salary. With Mozgov already gone, Los Angeles could try to completely erase the failures of last offseason by removing Luol Deng’s salary (three years, $54 million remaining) from the books as well.
Doing so will be extremely challenging, however, and would require attaching a significant asset to Deng in the same ilk of last week’s trade that sent Russell and Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets. Aside from Deng, Jordan Clarkson (three years, $37.5 million remaining) is the only other player on the roster who makes more than $10 million a year.
Can Magic Johnson change the Lakers bad offseason fortunes?
The Lakers have missed the playoffs a franchise-record four straight seasons and are 91-237 during that span. While the on-court product in Los Angeles has been embarrassing, what has happened around this time of year dating back to 2013 is perhaps even worse:
Dwight Howard, a free agent at the time, left for less money in 2013, just a year after the Lakers traded for him.
Pau Gasol followed Howard’s footsteps, leaving for less money in 2014. The Lakers reportedly were offering more than $10 million per season, but Gasol signed a three-year, $22 million contract with the Chicago Bulls.
LaMarcus Aldridge embarrassed members of the Lakers' front office following a free-agent meeting in 2015, saying they “didn’t talk enough about basketball.”
The Lakers didn't even get a meeting with Kevin Durant last year (six teams did).
Last year, Los Angeles overpaid for Mozgov with a four-year, $64 million contract as soon as free agency opened.
The Lakers followed up the Mozgov deal by overpaying for Deng (four years, $72 million). That came after Kent Bazemore turned down the Lakers to sign a deal worth $2 million less with the Atlanta Hawks.
Why the Lakers would trade for George now -- and why it would benefit him
Although George didn’t qualify for the super-max this past season, he still has the opportunity to do so next year if he remains with the Indiana Pacers -- who could offer a five-year deal worth a projected $207 million in the summer of 2018. But if George does not qualify for the super-max, Indiana’s best offer would be capped at five years and $177 million. The Lakers would only be able to offer a maximum of four years and $132 million.
Another team could trade for George this offseason and then renegotiate a contract extension with him. This would give George an extra $10 million for the 2017-18 season and take him off of next summer’s free agent market.
George would maintain his Bird rights if the Lakers trade for him, which would allow Los Angeles to offer him a five-year deal worth a projected $177 million next summer. If a trade can’t be worked out before then, George would have to take $45 million less in guaranteed money to sign with Los Angeles as a free agent in 2018.