Somewhere a rumor started about the Lakers potentially clearing enough cap space to sign Chris Paul. Let’s take a look at the plausibility of this idea.
First off, let’s get the obvious red flag out of the way — it would require the Lakers to use their amnesty on Kobe Bryant. While I’m one of the people who thinks the Lakers have to at least give it some serious thought if Kobe’s going to miss the entire season (or come back late in the season and be a shell of his old self, which is more likely), this doesn’t necessarily reflect the team’s thinking on the issue.
I know many Lakers fans would say, “The Lakers would never amnesty Kobe,” talking about loyalty, one of the greatest players ever, P.R. hit, etc. If this was an ordinary year, I might be more inclined to agree with you. However, this year the Lakers are under new management. We have some track record for what the Lakers might or might not do under Jerry Buss. We have a sample size of zero to guide us with Jim Buss in charge.
So just for the sake of argument, let’s assume the Lakers WOULD be willing to amnesty Kobe in order to make this all work. Otherwise, we can just stop here.
This scenario has the Lakers trading Pau Gasol to Houston for Donatas Motiejunas. The last time I looked at the Rockets’ cap situation (link) they could get down to about $41.8 million. If the cap is $60 million (I’m hoping for updated projections soon) that gives them $18.2 million in cap room. Gasol makes $19.3 million, but he also has a trade bonus that would pay him about $700,000 (technically it’s 15%, but it’s limited to the maximum salary), so the Rockets would have to treat him as a $20.0 million incoming player, and they would have to send out at least $1.8 million. Motiejunas will make $1.4 million, so this wouldn’t work. They’d need to send out at least $400,000 more. They have a lot of non-guaranteed salary, but the premise here is that they’re already clearing out these players in order to have this much cap room. They won’t have any non-guaranteed salaries to trade.
[Note: The following paragraph and the resulting analysis were revised. Thanks to @BimaThug for pointing out that Gasol's trade bonus would be constrained by the maximum salary.]
So the Rockets would have to either send out a different player, or add an additional player to the Motiejunas trade. Nothing is a really good fit. It looks like Royce White at $1.7 million will be a little short. Do they add in Terrence Jones or Royce White to Motiejunas make the numbers work? Maybe, but if they do, then the Lakers’ spending ability is reduced. Another possibility would be to trade Thomas Robinson, at $3.5 million instead of Motiejunas. So just for the sake of argument let’s say they do Robinson for Gasol (note that we already had to abandon the original idea where the Rockets send out Motiejunas).
The Lakers would then have a total payroll of $64 million. I assume they’re going to waive Chris Duhon, who has a $1.5 million guarantee. That gets them down to $61.7 million. Now amnesty Kobe, and they’re at $31.2 million.
Next let’s look at their cap room. If they’re going to retain their Bird rights to Howard (which they’d need in order to re-sign him above the cap), his cap hold would be $20.5 million. There’d also be four cap holds totaling about $2 million. That brings them to $53.2 million.
This means Chris Paul would have to sign for $6.8 million. Not going to happen.
Let’s look at it a different way — say they renounce Dwight Howard and try to sign both with cap room. Dwight’s $20.5 million cap hold comes off, but we need to add $500,000 back in as a separate cap hold. They’d be at $33.2 million, with $26.8 million to split between the two of them.
Scenario 2a: Paul takes the max; Howard takes what’s left — Paul would get $18.7 million, leaving $8,1 million for Howard. Not going to happen.
Secnario 2b: They split the cap room — each takes about $13.4 million. Also not going to happen.
Finally, let’s assume that if the Lakers sign Chris Paul they don’t need Steve Nash any more, and waive/stretch him. His cap hit would be spread out over five years, $3.8 million per year. The Lakers would have to be willing to have Nash on their cap for $3.8 million for the next five years, but let’s assume they do. Their cap for Nash this summer would drop from $9.3 million to $3.8 million, saving $5.5 million. Let’s re-run the numbers:
Scenario 3a: Leave Howard on the cap, sign Paul, and then use Bird rights on Dwight — Their cap amount would be $47.7 million. Paul would get $12.3 million ($6.4 million less), and Howard gets his full $20.5 million. Paul doesn’t sign for that.
Scenario 3b: Renounce Howard, sign Paul, then re-sign Howard with cap room — Paul gets his full $18.7 million, and Howard gets $13.6 million. Howard doesn’t do this.
Scenario 3c: Split the cap room — They would split $32.3 million, each getting $16.1 million — Paul gets $2.6 million less, and Howard gets $4.4 million less. This may be the most palatable option, but again, BOTH players would have to agree to this. I think it’s very, very unlikely.
But let’s say scenario 3c is the one they want to go with. The Lakers would then be back at the cap, and would have the following on their roster:
1 – Chris Paul/Steve Blake
2 – Jodie Meeks
3 – Metta World Peace/Robinson (I know he’s more of a 4)
4/5 – Howard/Jordan Hill
They’d also have a 2nd round draft pick and the Room Mid-Level ($2.652 million). With this and minimum salary contracts they’d need to sign at least three players, including a starting shooting guard (a tall order given their budget) and a lot more depth at 2/3. They’d need to get younger, more athletic, and have better shooters. Not impossible, but there would be a lot of work to do in the front office.
But to get to this point, the following would have to happen:
1. Houston would have to agree to trade Robinson for Gasol. Remember, the Rockets are also clearing cap space in order to land a big-time free agent. I know they like Gasol (they almost traded for him in 2011, in the famous “basketball reasons” debacle), but is this the best they could do this year? I’m sure they like the idea of luring Howard to the Rockets — do they abandon that idea in order to help Howard and Chris Paul team up on the Lakers?
2. The Lakers would have to be willing to waive and stretch Steve Nash, and live with his cap hit over the next five years.
3. The Lakers would have to be willing to amnesty Kobe Bryant. They would have to make this decision in early July — probably too early to get a realistic prognosis on his recovery time.
4. Paul would have to agree to come to the Lakers, taking $2.6 million less than he could make from the Clippers or elsewhere, AND take one fewer year and smaller raises than he could get from the Clippers.
5. Howard would have to agree to return to the Lakers, taking $4.4 million less than he could make on the open market.
Is all this possible? Sure. But I think the possibility is extremely remote.
I got a couple good questions on Twitter:
Q: Don’t the Lakers have a team option on Jodie Meeks?
A: Yes, they do. They could pass on the option, he would become a free agent, they could renounce him, and they would then save additional dollars on their cap. The savings would be about $1.05 million. I didn’t include this scenario for two reasons: 1) Even if the full amount went to one of Howard or Paul, it wouldn’t change the situation — they’d still have to take a big pay cut; 2) If the Lakers amnestied Kobe, they’d be extremely thin at SG, and could hardly stand to thin the roster further at that position; 3) The Lakers would have to make a decision on Meeks by June 30, and couldn’t even talk to Paul about it until July 1 — so they’d have to drop Meeks before they’d have any idea whether this unlikely scenario is even possible.
Q: What if Metta World Peace takes his opt-out and becomes a free agent?
A: Then the Lakers save about $7.7 million, and the financial objections I raised become less of a problem. But from what I hear, even though Metta raised the possibility of opting-out, it isn’t going to happen. I’d be shocked if it did.
And since a player opting-out isn’t something that’s under the team’s control, I didn’t want to consider it for this piece.
Q; Can the Lakers trade Steve Nash to Toronto, say for Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross, rather than waiving him?
A: Let’s assume they could. Lowry could be waived, and his guarantee of $1 million would be on the books. Ross is on the books for $2.7 million — so that’s $3.7 million total, Waiving & stretching Nash leaves $3.8 million on their books — hardly any savings at all.
So this idea already adds an additional contingency to our unlikely scenario where all these other pieces have to fall together, making it even more unlikely. And even if it does work, the trade idea is further constrained by the requirement that the Lakers would have to find a trade that brings back significantly less than $3.8 million.
Q: Does the maximum salary affect Pau Gasol’s trade kicker?
A: Yes it does! I neglected this in the original article. I’ve revised the analysis to take the limitation on Gasol’s trade kicker into account. Thanks to @BimaThug for the catch.