Our own Valerie Morales pointed out:
Next summer the Lakers will only have six players under contract (Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis). They will have cut $32 million dollars in salary and will start all of this chaos once again.
I said to myself, “Wait a second. Is it possible to have salary cap space two years in a row?” After a little research, it is possible.
Looking at the Lakers Team Cap page from BasketballInsiders, the Lakers are nearly topped off for this year. However, next year when there are only six players under contract, they will have freed up $30 million in contracts altogether. Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, and Carlos Boozer would be off the books at the end of the 2015 season. That frees up roughly $20 million in cap space, after Jordan Hill gets officially signed.
Who are the free agents of 2015? Notable names include Rajon Rondo, Jeremy Lin (again), Tony Parker, Klay Thompson, Danny Green, Marcus Thornton, Ricky Ledo, Jeff Green (player option), Rudy Gay, LeBron James (player option), Carlos Boozer (again), Kevin Love (player option), Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik, Tyson Chandler, and Al Jefferson (player option). A full list of the free agents of 2015 can be found at the Basketball Insiders link found here.
The amazing part is, Jordan Hill‘s and Kobe Bryant‘s contract are off the books the following year for 2016. That frees up $34 million of salary cap space all over again. All the two-year deals that have been signed off this summer are off the books as well. Essentially, this resets the Lakers into exploring max contract options for 2016 as well.
Who are the free agents of 2016? Mike Conley, Jarrett Jack, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Durant, Nicholas Batum, Al Horford, David Lee, J.J. Hickson, Joakim Noah, JaVale McGree, and Nene. A full list of free agents for 2016 can be found here.
Pause. Let’s take a step back to realize what the Lakers have created this summer.
They created a solid team. Sure, it may not be a championship team, but it is a competitive team. The Lakers have a strong four options on offense. Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, and Nick Young are formidable. More importantly, they are relatively balanced in talent. You have an interior scorer in Boozer. You have a shooter in Jeremy Lin. You have two midrange slashers in Bryant and Nick Young.
More importantly, they created flexibility. Laker fans had planned for a very short window of recovery. It just doesn’t work out that way. It took four years between 1992 to 1996 just to have a franchise player in Shaquille O’Neal and two All-Stars in Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. Kobe Bryant wasn’t Kobe Bryant yet.
After that, it still took another four years of getting swept before winning the championship in 2000.
With the current roster, the expected window of six years is considered fast. Waiting from 2010-2016 isn’t that bad. The Lakers are just a few years away from a then, healthy Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol. We can’t blame the front office for trying.
Optimistically, there is an outside shot of landing Klay Thompson at the max with Kevin Durant the following year. That’s just one hypothetical scenario. Imagine that duo next to a developed Julius Randle. There would still be cap space available. My NBA2k dreams would include Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan, and Kevin Durant, but it depends on how much they would ask for in free agency.
Oklahoma City is a tremendous basketball town with an excellent team. That team is money-conscious, as indicated when James Harden bolted for the Houston Rockets demanding the max contract. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s very possible the Thunder could have steamrolled through the West this year and into the championship with Harden, Ibaka, Durant, and Westbrook.
Once the Lakers find a way to land franchise players, they will look to continually expand upon the core talent. They are willing to shell out to win championships. They bet on their best players. They showed it with Kobe Bryant. They even showed it with Nick Young.
The free agency offseason of 2014 dream has passed. It was all a long shot. With the current situation, the Lakers have tremendous flexibility for the next two consecutive years. Most of the contracts are geared to freeing up space in 2016. You can guess who the target free agent is.
That should be scary for the league.