In the immediate aftermath of the Los Angeles Lakers’ trade for Anthony Davis this past weekend, just about everyone assumed that the deal would be structured in such a manner that they could add a third max-salaried superstar in free agency.
According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers did not prioritize creating cap space during their initial negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans, and then called back in an attempt to salvage another max spot after agreeing to the terms.
As it stands now, the Pelicans have not relented. And why would they when doing so would hinder their own ability to build a competitive roster over the next month?
You see, the Lakers could have created $32.5 million in cap space — enough to sign a player with seven-to-nine years of NBA service to a max deal (i.e., Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, etc.) — if they negotiated July 30 as the trade completion date. That way, they could draft the No. 4 pick for New Orleans, sign him to a first-year salary of $8.2 million, wait the requisite 30 days to trade him, and then use his contract to match salaries in an even swap for Davis.
Waiting until July 30 complicates matters for the Pelicans, who would have less cap space of their own with which to pursue free agents. It also impacts their ability to add the No. 4 pick to their summer league roster or shop the pick to a third team.
Instead, the deal is scheduled to be completed when the moratorium is lifted on July 6, reportedly at the Lakers’ behest. In that scenario, they will absorb Davis’ contract into cap space and be left with $23.7 million to pursue free agents — less than the maximum salary for players of any experience (i.e., D’Angelo Russell).
What’s worse: The Lakers could have still created $27.8 million in cap space — enough to pursue a max-level player with up to six years of experience — if they insisted Davis decline a trade kicker that will increase his salary by $4.1 million. Except, according to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, they never bothered to ask.
None of this does much to improve Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka’s image.
The machinations of trades — when they fall in the NBA calendar and whether a team is matching salaries or using cap space — can be somewhat complicated. It should not be to a team trying to build a championship roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It certainly was not to most people with a basic understanding of league rules. Questions were raised about this almost as soon as the deal was reported, and everyone just figured that the incredible haul the Lakers gave up for Davis included a premium for making the Pelicans wait until July 30 to do the deal.
Not so. The Lakers are now scrambling to create more cap space between now and the start of free agency. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, they are shopping the only players left on their roster not named LeBron or Kyle Kuzma — Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones — in an effort to shed more salary. Wagner was their first-round pick last year and showed some promise as a rookie.
This all presumes Davis waives his $4.1 million bonus. (Side note: He is set to star alongside James in “Space Jam 2.”) Otherwise, the Lakers cannot match salaries to complete the deal. It also assumes the Lakers can persuade a max free agent to commit before 11 a.m. on July 6 and sign as soon as the moratorium ends, so they can then complete the trade for Davis. Or else the Lakers risk having only $29.3 million in cap room or having to go back to the Pelicans again and ask for more time.
As I said, assumptions are a dangerous game when it comes to the Lakers.
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