We spend most of our time speculating on what the Lakers should do but I thought I’d take a closer look at what the Lakers are likely to do based on a careful reading of the tea leaves that show what the Lakers may be thinking.
First, let’s review the Lakers’ cap situation. The Lakers have long term deals for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Thomas Bryant for next season totaling $17.9 million. In addition, they also need to account for cap holds on Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, the #25 pick in the draft, and 4 empty roster spots for a total of $29.0 million. That would give them salary and cap holds totaling $46.9 million, leaving $54.1 million in cap space.
The first step would be to find a team who would accept Luol Deng’s contract in return for Ivica Zubac, $5 million cash, and the Lakers’ 2019 first rounder. That would allow the Lakers to keep this year’s #25 first round pick from the Cavs to draft UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday. Having played with Lonzo, Holiday would be a great fit as a backup point guard who can run the offense and play tough defense. The Lakers would also have #46 pick in the draft.
The next step would be to sign Paul George to a 4-year max deal starting at $30.3 million and use Bird rights to re-sign Julius Randle to a 4-year contract starting at $18 million, leaving the Lakers $33 million they could save to sign Kawhi Leonard summer of 2019 by only signing players to 1-year deals this summer. The Lakers could sign Brook Lopez for $10 million, Isaiah Thomas for $9 million, Trevor Ariza for $8 million, and Nerlens Noel for $6 million.
The above moves would give the Lakers twelve players under contract. The remaining three roster spots could easily be filled by signing minimum veteran contracts with players like Channing Frye or Matt Thomas plus the #46 pick in the draft. The new roster would add seven new players to eight players who were on last year’s roster. The result of all of the above moves would give the Lakers the following fifteen man roster for next season:
That’s a lineup that I think could be a top four playoff team in the West and a top ten team in the league. The additions of Paul George, Trevor Ariza, and Nerlens Noel should dramatically improve the defense. The additions of Paul George, Trevor Ariza, and Matt Thomas should improve the 3-point shooting. Best of all, the Lakers not only upgraded their roster for next season but also positioned themselves to sign a second free agent superstar summer of 2019.
Nerlens Noel, by the way, despite being a poor fit coming off the bench for the Mavs, posted a DRPM of 2.54, which was 9th best in the league last year for centers who played more than 15 minutes per game and only two slots behind Clint Capela, whose DRPM of 3.03 was 7th best in the NBA last year. Noel has long been a player the Lakers were interested in adding for defense so I expect they will take advantage of a soft market for him this summer.
While Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka would like to sign two max contract free agents this summer, chances are the above scenario has a better chance of happening and in the long run would be a better outcome for the Lakers.