GM: Lakers likely limited in free agency

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is energized the NBA is going back to work, but knows that the particulars of the post-lockout world will present new challenges for him to continue to field a championship-caliber team.

The Lakers, who were hardly discouraged by the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax penalties they paid out in the past in order to pursue top-notch talent, will face new restrictions by the collective bargaining agreement that is expected to be ratified next week.

"All we have is an outline [of a deal], but my understanding of the outline and based on our financial structure, we would be very limited in what we could do with our team in terms of free agency in the next two weeks," Kupchak said Friday.

As a luxury tax paying team under the proposed CBA, the Lakers would only have the mini mid-level exception available to them, worth about $9.4 million over three years to offer to a free agent. They can also sign players to the veteran's minimum. Under the terms of the last deal, the Lakers could offer a five-year deal worth approximately $30 million every offseason, regardless if the team's payroll breached the luxury tax line or not.

Los Angeles has nine players under contract and would push its roster to 11 if the team decides to exercise the options on second-year players Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. The Lakers would still need to sign two additional players to meet the NBA's minimum roster requirement of 13 players.

Kupchak said those two spots are likely to be filled by a ball-handling guard and a backup big man. He does not anticipate frontcourt players Theo Ratliff or Joe Smith to return to the team. Free agent guard Shannon Brown could be the answer to their empty backcourt space, but Kupchak expects Brown to sign with another team as well.

Kupchak said he and members of the team's front office and coaching staff met late into the night on Thursday discussing potential moves and guessing what the rest of the league was planning to do with trades and free agency signings. The thinking remains that despite new financial constraints being placed on the Lakers by what they can offer, they can continue to entice free agents because they are still located in sunny Los Angeles and they will still be a championship contender.

"We're hopeful there's a player out there who's made money in his career and is on the back end and is looking at a championship, or a player who is developing," Kupchak said. "That's harder to do."

The Lakers have interest in Delonte West, who played for coach Mike Brown in Cleveland and last played for Boston, as a potential fill-in at guard and also are keen on Indiana free agent Josh McRoberts, according to a source with knowledge of their thinking. ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Denver free-agent guard Arron Afflalo is also on the Lakers' radar.

The elephant in the room, of course, was Orlando's 6-foot-11, 265-pound center Dwight Howard, whose contract with the Magic expires at the end of the season. Unless Howard signs an extension with the Magic, the expectation is Orlando will trade him and Los Angeles is a possible destination. Stein and ESPN Insider Chad Ford reported this week that L.A. is expected to offer "some combination" of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for Howard.

Kupchak side-stepped a direction question about L.A.'s interest in Howard.

"Obviously talking about other team's players would be considered tampering, so I wouldn't answer that question," Kupchak said.

He also sniffed out a question that he thought was indirectly referring to Bynum's standing within the organization.

"You're trying to get me to talk about one player that might be young?" Kupchak said with a smile. "I understand a lot of our players' names have been out there and maybe that's the one name you're referring to."

While Kupchak remained guarded with his answers, Lakers forward Matt Barnes was much more open when asked about the rumors surrounding his former teammate Howard.

"You know, I've been hearing Dwight. I've been hearing Baron [Davis]. I've been hearing stuff a lot lately," Barnes said. "I've talked to both of those guys and they want to be here, so we'll see what happens."

It's been speculated that the Cleveland Cavaliers will use its amnesty provision on the L.A.-native Davis and get out from the two years and approximately $28.7 million remaining on his contract.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.