It’s March 10, the Lakers have won 11 of their last 12 games and are arguably the NBA’s hottest team. Inspired and determined–the Purple and Gold appeared to be in the pole position to lay claim to the Larry O’Brien trophy for the 17th time in franchise history.
Lebron is making a last-minute push for MVP, and Anthony Davis continues to make his case for Defensive Player of the Year. Fresh off statement wins against the Bucks and Clippers, tonight the Lakers are in Brooklyn to face the Nets without their stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
After clawing back from a 9-point deficit late in the 4th quarter, Anthony Davis hits a clutch 3 to tie the game with 43 seconds left.
Spencer Dinwiddie comes right back down the court and sinks a go-ahead pullup jumper.
On the ensuing possession, with 0.9 seconds remaining.
Davis gets the ball, wide open on the left wing.
He rises from 3 and the game clock expires.
The ball floats in the air, perfectly in line with the hoop…
…and the shot falls just short of winning the game for Los Angeles.
As we watched the players walk off, imagining in our heads “what could’ve been” if AD’s shot had traveled just a tiny bit further, not one person thought for a second that this would be the last time we would get to watch Lebron, AD and the Lakers.
Now it’s May 22nd, it’s been a full 73 days since the Lakers played a basketball game and while some facilities are beginning to open back up, there’s a large sense of uncertainty surrounding whether the season will resume. So, as NBA fans around the world wait patiently to hear the fate of the 2019-2020 season, I went ahead and looked ahead towards something we can feel a little more certain about, the 2020-2021 season.
In this article, we’ll look at the Lakers current roster and evaluate areas in which they can improve. We’ll discuss where they stand regarding the Salary Cap as well as, their ability to sign Free Agents. And lastly, we’ll explore the 2020-2021 Free Agency class and see who the next players might be to dawn the Purple and Gold.
Projected Lakers 2020-2021 Roster:
Bold=2019 Starter, *=Player Option
PG: Rajon Rondo*, Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso
SG: Avery Bradley*, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope*
SF: Lebron James, Talen Horton-Tucker,
PF: Anthony Davis*, Kyle Kuzma, Devontae Cacok (Two-Way),
C: JaVale McGee*
2020 Free Agents: Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, Jared Dudley, Dion Waiters, Kostas Antetokounmpo
2019-2020 Team Stats:
Strengths– Size, Defense, 2pt FG, Versatility, Passing, Shot Blocking, Experience
Weaknesses– Front Court Depth, Bench Scoring, Free Throws, Wing Defender with size/length, Rajon Rondo
Areas to Improve– Secondary Ball Handler, 3pt Shooting, Turnovers
The first thought that comes to mind when looking at the Lakers 2020-21 Roster, is that depending on how the player options turn out, the team could look very similar, or completely different than it did this season.
For simplicity purposes and the fact that there’s been no indication that any player will opt out, we are going to assume that all players other than AD will choose to sign their player option. We are excluding AD because it is widely expected that he will opt out and sign a maximum contract with the Lakers.
Another thing that stands out when looking at the current build of the 2020-21 roster, is the lack of depth in the front court.
The Lakers showed their determination to play a “True Center” last season by devoting 36 minutes a game to McGee and Howard. It’s clear the Lakers want AD playing most of his minutes at PF.
As of now, there’s only 3 players on the roster with a PF or C designation that have played significant minutes in the NBA. The front court looks even thinner when you account for the fact that AD has never played a full season and is almost certain to miss games.
On the bright side, the Lakers boast one of the most versatile rosters in the NBA.
Of course, AD can play Center and Lebron has thrived in his patented Point Forward role for almost 2 decades, but KCP and Danny Green have the length to play both wing spots, Kuzma can contribute as a SF or PF, Avery Bradley can guard either guard position at a high level, and Caruso has produced as a PG and SG.
When it comes to the Clippers however, there are some serious matchup concerns. The length that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George possess, present an abundance of issues for the current Lakers roster.
The Lakers offense relies heavily on Lebron. I can’t imagine Frank Vogel wanting a 36-year-old Lebron to guard Kawhi or PG for large portions of the game. That means you’re left with Danny Green and KCP as your only capable wing defenders and neither offer the desired size you’d want to guard the Clippers superstars.
Kuzma does have the length but has shown no propensity to use it effectively on the defensive end. Therefore, he shouldn’t be considered an option as someone who could guard Kawhi or PG for large minutes at a time.
Additionally, too often in 2019 did the Lakers offense appear to flounder when Lebron came off the court.
A lot of this can be credited to the ineffectiveness of Rajon Rondo, as well as Kuzma’s inability to adjust to his new role combined with his shooting woes. The Lakers even signed Dion Waiters to give a scoring boost to the 2nd unit but the season was cut short before he could even suit up for a game.
Lastly, with any team led by Lebron, you can never have too much shooting.
You can see from the table above provided by BasketballReference.com that, in 2019, the Lakers were an average team from beyond the arc. They made 17 3’s a game on 35.5% shooting which was good for 22nd and 17th respectively. Even though several players had career worsts in 3PT%, I expect the Lakers to make at least one move to try to add another shooter.
Lakers 2020-2021 Salary Cap:
Now that we know the strengths and weaknesses of the roster and understand areas in which the team can improve, the next step in the process would be to address these areas.
But before we do that, we must figure out how much cap space the Lakers have, and understand how they are able to acquire players after exceeding the Salary Cap Threshold. Thankfully, Spotrac.com has provided us with a table that outlines the Lakers current cap situation:
|CAP TYPE||CAP TOTAL|
|Active Roster Cap||$114,486,054|
|Dead Money (Luol Deng)||$5,000,000|
|Total Cap Allocations||$119,486,054|
|2020 NBA Salary Cap Max||$115,000,000|
|Cap Max Space||($4,486,054)|
Keep in mind that this number only includes the amount Anthony Davis’ player option is worth. If he opts out of that and signs a contract with the maximum value (30% of teams cap) allowed, the Active Roster Cap increases by roughly $6million and the Cap Max Space increases to a number above negative $10million.
Before you scratch your head and wonder how the Lakers can have negative cap space, remember the NBA uses a soft cap as opposed to the NFL which uses a hard cap. This means that NBA teams can exceed the projected $115 million cap limit.
However, teams must be wary of the Luxury Tax Threshold because once they exceed that, they face hefty fines from the NBA. The 2020 Luxury Tax Threshold is predicted to be $139 million for 2020-21.
Here are all the ways the Lakers can add players while having “negative” cap space for the 2020-21 Season:
Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception- This exception is by far the best card in the Lakers deck. Because they are above the cap but below the projected Luxury Tax Threshold ($139mil) they are given this exception that allows them to sign 1 player for an amount set by the league. The Non-Taxpayer MLE was set at $9,246,00 for 2019 and is expected to rise for 2020
Bi-Annual Exception- This contract is similar to the Non-Taxpayer MLE where it is a method for teams over the cap but under the Tax threshold to sign a player. However, there are 2 major differences with the BAE. The first is teams are only allowed to use this exception every other year. Secondly, the amount of the contract is much lower than the MLE. In 2019 the amount of a BAE contract was set at $3,623,000 and is also expected to rise for 2020. It is also important to note that when a team uses the BAE, the Luxury Tax Threshold then becomes a hard cap which the team cannot exceed under any circumstance
Players with Cap Holds– A cap hold is intended to prevent teams from using all their available cap space to sign players then go on to sign their own players using exceptions that allow them to exceed the salary cap. Teams can resign players with Cap Holds regardless of their cap situation, as long as the amount signed for doesn’t exceed the amount of that cap hold.
League Minimum Contract– The cost of a league minimum contract is determined based on how many years you’ve played in the league. Additionally, any team at any time can sign a player to a League Minimum Contract regardless of their cap standing and regardless of their Luxury Tax standing
2020-2021 Free Agency:
Now that we know how the Lakers can add players, it’s time to start evaluating players that could be potential fits.
We know the Lakers can add 1 player using the MLE, another player using the BAE, they have 5 players currently with a Cap Hold, and have unlimited League Minimum Contracts they can use to round out the roster.
With 10 players on NBA contracts and 1 signed to a Two-Way deal, the Lakers can sign up to 6 players with one of those being another Two-Way deal.
Let’s take a look at some candidates who might be available for the Lakers to use these exceptions on, courtesy of Spotrac’s 2020 Free Agent Tracker.
Cap Holds: Here is the list of players with Cap Holds and the amount associated with that hold. Players like Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris could look to hit the open market for more lucrative deals while players like Dudley and Waiters will likely have to settle for similar numbers. Antetokounmpo is likely to sign a similar two-way deal.
|PLAYER (5)||CAP FIGURE|
|Incomplete Roster Charge||$959,733|
(1) Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (projected amount: $9,750,000): Age concerns, injury history, decreased production, or chasing a ring. These are all reasons that make these players realistic targets for the Lakers with the MLE. Don’t be surprised if any of them sign elsewhere, and for much more however
PF-Paul Millsap (35)
PG- Goran Dragic (34)
SF- Jae Crowder (30)
C- Marc Gasol (35)
C- Aron Baynes (33)
PG- Jeff Teague (32)
SG- Joe Harris (29)
SF-Danilo Gallinari (32)
C-Tristan Thompson (29)
SF-Jerami Grant (26)*
PF-Marcus Morris (31)
(1) Bi-Annual Exception (projected amount: $3,800,000): I don’t believe the Lakers will use this exception. My primary reasoning behind this is because I think they’ll want the ability to go over the Luxury Tax Threshold if they want. Using this exception would cap the Lakers at the Luxury Tax Threshold number and restrict roster flexibility. If they were to use it, here are some players I could see them using it on. These players are likely to see more than the League Minimum but less than the MLE
PG-Darren Collison (32)
PG-DJ Augustin (32)
PF-Dario Saric (26) – Restricted Free Agent
SG-Garret Temple (34)
League Minimum Contracts: A collection of players who have either accepted the league minimum in the past or are likely to accept the league minimum in the future
SG-Kyle Korver (39)
PG- Reggie Jackson (30)
SG- Jordan McRae (29)
PF- Marvin Williams (34)
C- Nerlens Noel (26)
SF- Carmelo Anthony (36)
C- Willie Cauley-Stein (27)*
SG- Alec Burks (29)
SF- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (25)
SG- Wesley Matthews (33)
PF- James Johnson (33)
C- Harry Giles (22)
PG- Emmanuel Mudiay (24)
PG- Shabazz Napier (29)
SG- Austin Rivers (28)*
C- Demarcus Cousins (29)
SG- Lance Stephenson (29)
Lakers fans let’s hear from you! Who would you sign this offseason?
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