The last two months have been good to Los Angeles Lakers fans. The Purple and Gold won its 17th NBA title over the Miami Heat in October after a nearly three-month layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, completing a poetic ending to what was a long journey following the sudden passing of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. It marked a fulfilled promise made by LeBron James over a year ago and the start of a possibly bright future with fellow superstar Anthony Davis. That future is now much brighter thanks to James and Davis re-upping with the Lakers over the last 24 hours. The former is essentially wiping away his player option at the end of his original four-year, $153.3 million deal (signed in 2018) and opting for a two-year extension worth $85 million. Meanwhile, the latter is signing the five-year, $190 million max contract with an early-termination option after the fourth year.
Where does LA stand currently after free agency?
For those keeping track at home, Los Angeles now has James under contract through the 2022-23 season (when his oldest son Bronny James could be eligible to enter the NBA) and Davis through 2023-24 (could opt out a year before). That’s a pretty good formula for continued excellence in the regular season, and for potential title runs in the postseason. The question to come out of this – just how long is the Lakers window as title favorites open, and what does it mean for the rest of the league?
Thankfully, Los Angeles does not have to rely just on their dynamic duo, as general manager Rob Pelinka is having the best offseason for the Lakers quite possibly since 1996 (the year they signed Shaquille O’Neal and traded for a young Kobe Bryant). Pelinka began by trading Danny Green (34% 3PT in the playoffs) and their first-round pick for Dennis Schroeder, a lightning-quick guard who shot a career-high 38.5% from deep last season with Oklahoma City. Next up was the biggest free agency surprise, as the Lakers stole the Sixth Man of the Year winner, Montrezl Harrell, from the rival Clippers for just $19 million over two seasons (player option in year two).
Pelinka has filled defensive holes at the guard and center spot by bringing in Wes Matthews and Marc Gasol, two respected veterans who can also space the floor. He worked with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to re-sign him for another three seasons after the two-guard hit several big shots in the Finals. Oh and for the cherry on top, Pelinka also managed to rid the Lakers of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, two athletically gifted but low-IQ big men. On paper, Los Angeles looks great to defend the title in the upcoming season, but what do the LeBron and AD signings mean for their future beyond 2021?
Looking at the future in Los Angeles
For starters, it means working with a very tight salary cap during the window of their new contracts. Experts around the league expect the cap to drop after this upcoming season, as a repercussion from the lack of fans/arena profits due to the pandemic. This means that James and Davis will be taking up over 75% of the Lakers salary cap room in 2022 and 2023, which are years they are not going to have Schroeder, Gasol, Matthews, and possibly Harrell. The good news is they will have “Bird” rights for Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Kostas Antetokounmpo, and Talen Horten-Tucker, allowing them to go over the cap to bring back some pieces to fill out the roster.
If they end up renouncing every player but James and Davis after this season, Los Angeles could create up to $22 million in cap space, which won’t be enough to fill a max-contract slot. This means they will need to rely on their Mid-Level Exception (generally between $8-10 million) and veterans looking to ring chase on a minimum deal. The Lakers have already made it clear they do not view the team as a contender for just this year but through the end of Davis’s deal.
Per ESPN, Pelinka stated – “We don’t just look at this at all as a one- or two-year window. We want to stay competitive for the long term and make decisions that allow us to do just that and not just shoot all of our bullets to try and defend for one year. We want to be in a position of being a sustainable contender.”
The Lakers will have some work to do in the near future to remain contenders, assuming James starts a slow descent into the final years of his career. But they will still have Davis, squarely in his prime, and the ever-so-enticing lure of playing for the Purple and Gold to lure veterans and stars alike to Los Angeles. For now, Lakers fans can rejoice at their latest title, be excited as favorites in the hunt for #18 (would be the most all-time over the Boston Celtics), and rest easy at night knowing they have two of the seven best players in the world on the payroll for the next few seasons.
The 2020-21 NBA season begins Tuesday, Dec. 22 with a TNT doubleheader featuring the Warriors at the Nets, followed by the Clippers against the Lakers.
Feature image courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com / Basketball-reference.com
Get your team NBS merch by clicking here!