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The Lakers, the Tax and the 2014 Cap Space Myth

February 5, 2013

As of February 2013, this is how the Lakers payroll looks like. According to Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, the Lakers are not expected to trade any of its core players. That means Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Nash.

“We will not make a trade. We will not trade Dwight Howard. We have no intention of making a trade. It’s unlikely that we’ll make any trade with any of our principal players.”

He said he will not trade Dwight Howard. He cannot trade Kobe Bryant. Steve Nash is hooked with Mike D’Antoni. That leaves Mr. Gasol, question is, is he part of the “principal players” group?

Intentions are one thing, further events (and interviews) may compromise that. In a recent interview with TJ Simers Pau Gasol poured out everything that screamed “Please send me anywhere” but insists he will not ask for a trade atleast this season. But why? For both the Lakers and himself, why wait? For a puncher’s chance at the 8th seed going to win it all?

I beg to differ. Mitch can say he won’t make a trade to increase his leverage but not to block suitors. He can always make the calls himself gauging interest and exploring supposed trades for the summer, but it doesn’t really change who Pau Gasol is or what he brings to the table for the team. The clear impediment is his 19 million salary. Other than that, 29 other teams would love to have a center like Pau.

Note that I mentioned the term “center” and not power forward. I don’t need some sort of advanced statistics to show you to prove that Pau has played his best games without Dwight this season. Its also no secret that his lack of athleticism at this stage in his career makes him a very slow power forward. Therefore whoever we try to trade with, must be seeking a center and not a power forward.

Assuming the plan is to ride the season out, we shall proceed with looking at our payroll (after paying 30 million in taxes this season) we move on to Draft, of which we have no draft picks, and then the dreaded Free Agency.

The 1st step is simple: secure Dwight Howard with a 5-yr maximum contract. Give the man whatever else he wants.

The 2nd step is to secure Earl Clark with a 4-yr 16M contract. After that the payroll would look like this:

At 103 million, the Lakers HAVE TO use the amnesty. We can only use it on 5 candidates: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Chris Duhon, Steve Blake or Metta World Peace. Using the amnesty on either one guarantees exponential savings in terms of the luxury tax. The bigger the better. My best guess: If Pau Gasol is not traded by the 2013 deadline, then he is a prime candidate for the amnesty. Reducing 19 million in payroll for 2013/14 season means lowering the taxable excess to 14M (computed at 84M less 70M projected tax line). At 14 million over the Lakers are then just expected to pay some 30 million in taxes. Unless its Kobe you spend the amnesty on, which would be possible but highly improbable.

Fast forward one year later and you got yourself the 25 million cap space with only 3 players on board: Dwight Howard, Earl Clark and Steve Nash’s expiring contract. Depending on how he is at age 40, options can be explored.

At this stage, the purported 25M in cap space is still not the final value. The Lakers own its own 2014 draft pick and thus the salary of this player is still deductable to that space. Should Kobe choose to remain with the team beyond his contract, he would have to either retire, have his bird rights renounced, or sign a new deal estimated at 12.5M starting salary. This amount is then deducted from the payroll and thus leaving the Lakers with about 10 million left. So its either Kobe and the 10 million or 25 million less the draft pick.

There is also a chance that Dwight might not want Kobe back by then. There’s a chance Kobe would have retired then. Then its all a matter of wait-and-see which among the listed future free agents best fit our team.

So unless you tell me Lebron James is coming over to help Dwight win a championship, I don’t think this cap space plan works. I’m just glad the Lakers can finally structure its payroll well enough. There are still plenty of variables involved in this, perhaps the Lakers can pawn off Nash and the draft pick to another team. Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps. All I know is there is no way the Lakers can build a championship contender overnight. We just have to do this smartly and properly. Unless of course, Lebron decides to come over. But why would he?

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