The past few days the Lakers have been keeping a pretty low profile, hoping the endless whirlwind of proposed trades big or small will wind down a bit so the team can finally get to business. In the midst of the endless fan debates (‘blow up the team!’, ‘go after Dwight Howard!’, ‘beg Phil Jackson to come back one more time!’) the Buss family and General Manager Mitch Kupchak have probably been looking over the Lakers’ past few years worth of success, heartbreak, and growing finances…. and wondering what to do next. Even I have been tossing trade deal after trade deal onto the table, making cases for ‘smart trades’ that benefit the Lakers’ championship-chasing efforts and finances, and that of their partners. Each deal has it merits and its drawbacks, as well as varying degrees of likeliness given numerous factors including financial flexibility, rapidly expanding player egos, team chemistry, rebuilding phases vs. win-now modes, etc.
Listening to the Kamenetzky Brothers’ Land O’ Lakers podcast this past weekend I came across a developing rumor that not only made sense, it seemed to almost make too much good sense for both teams involved. The proposed trade idea involved the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets each swapping an all-star and solid team player… each swapping a center and a point guard… and each doing so while preventing any key drop off in big name talent while addressing team needs. The Lakers would receive Deron Williams and Brook Lopez from the Nets, while the Nets would get Andrew Bynum and Ramon Sessions from the Lakers. That’s right, Pau Gasol is NOT the Lakers player being sent packing. Despite the increasing trade talks supposedly involving the Spaniard (and the Lakers exercising their $16.1 million 2012-13 option on Bynum) it’s well known that Bynum is the more desirable target for other teams, and if the Lakers are willing to put him on the trading block they can net a much better return.
One major caveat to note, however, is that much of this deal happening depends on several IFs:
- IF Deron Williams demands to go to the Lakers, thus forcing the Nets to attempt a sign-and-trade
- IF Brook Lopez recovered enough from his broken foot for the Lakers to take a chance on him
- IF Andrew Bynum has worn out his welcome with the Buss family, yet still gets Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov excited about having him as the new Brooklyn star
- IF Ramon Sessions either exercises his Lakers’ contract $4.5 million player option (making him tradable) or re-signs with the Lakers for no more than about $5.5 million next year (much higher complicates the possibility of the trade)
Should all the stars align and all 4 of the IFs become certainties then this almost too-good-to-be-true trade could go down. But first things first. Before we get to the financial ramifications for the Lakers let’s take a quick look at the statistics and chemistry factor, starting with the big men in the deal:
The 2011-12 season was a rough one for Brook Lopez, and mostly quite the opposite for Andrew Bynum. While Lopez was on track for a promising season before breaking his foot (and most certainly killing the Nets chances to swap him and other pieces to assemble a Dwight Howard-Deron Williams super duo), Bynum was having a breakout season with nearly all career-high stats and playing in every game this season. In a Bynum-for-Lopez trade the Nets initially seem to be getting the better end of the deal. Bynum is arguably the best or 2nd best center in the league (behind, ahead of, or tied with Dwight Howard depending on the NBA fan) who’s finally come into his own after 7 years of developing ‘promise’. He’s a better defensive presence than Brook Lopez, generally stronger and quicker, and though in the league a bit longer is roughly half a year younger too. Drew’s increasingly frequent ‘immaturity’ issues are leading to an ever-growing call to ship him out by the Laker faithful… calls that Jim Buss have long ignored given his growing dominance and superstar moments. But those moments of personal frustration and lackadaisical attitude are growing too (from a ‘what the hell?’ 3-pointer to avoiding the team huddle, from ‘getting my Zen on’ to ‘I’ll play anywhere’), making the primary target of trade rumors Pau Gasol seem like the more dedicated Laker teammate with outrageously greater professionalism.
But that’s not to sell the Lakers short with Lopez. The Nets’ current center anchors the paint well, has better scoring averages than Bynum (much of which likely outstrips Bynum because Drew shares the middle with Pau Gasol), and comparable careers rebounds, blocks, and efficiency ratings. Brook has also been in the league for fewer years, meaning he’s had the benefit of the college team ‘education’, has less wear and tear on his body, and will likely continue to grow into a better player… all for MUCH less than Bynum earns annually. Though Lopez’s potential probably has a lower ceiling than Bynum he would still continue to flourish with the right team-oriented setting where he wouldn’t be the star, could play in tandem with another solid big (the Lakers’ Pau Gasol and/or Jordan Hill), and even at contract time would still command less than Drew… while still being on the list of the top 5 centers in the NBA. Brook also carries a more humble attitude than Bynum, something that would be incredible valuable on a star-studded Laker team led unquestionably by Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams. Though still quite young, Lopez’s ‘team first’ personality lends to a less volatile player who would compliment veteran big man Pau and defer to star guards Bryant and Williams, while still working hard to contribute whatever is asked of him.
When looking at the point guards involved there are significantly different factors to consider, but ones that ultimately serve the needs and resolve the issues of both the Lakers and the Nets:
Deron Williams is clearly the star player upon which much of this deal rests, and his recent career exploits only highlight that fact. Over the past few years Williams has contended with many top tier point guards for the title of ‘best in the league’, including Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, and Steve Nash. A younger class of players like Kyrie Irving and John Wall have years to go to achieve the steller level of play Williams puts in night in-night out, making him a highly coveted asset for almost any team this summer. Deron has solid strength and scoring ability to compliment his exceptional court vision, dishing the rock, and leadership skills… elements that would surely make him the best point guard the Lakers have had since Magic Johnson. With Phil Jackson & the Triangle Offense retired and Mike Brown in dire need of more ‘pure’ point guard to facilitate his offense Williams would certainly be another step up from the decent Ramon Sessions, who did his best to help the Lakers this past year but too often deferred to Kobe Bryant. Deron Williams, meanwhile, has a similar team-leader and ‘will to win’ attitude as Bryant, can take some of the scoring load off of the Laker Legend (especially as Kobe is nearing the end of his playing days), and still coordinate a flowing offense that involves getting tons of assists to the team’s (proposed) 7-foot duo of Pau Gasol and Brook Lopez. Deron saw his scoring outpace his career average last season while his assists fell before their career averages (the consequence of a less-than-capable Nets team), trends that should reverse themselves once he’s wearing the purple and gold.
From the perspective of the Brooklyn Nets, getting Ramon Sessions in return doesn’t seem to be as fair a trade value as they would hope for. With Deron Williams sending pretty clear smoke signals that he’s itching to ditch the Nets, nabbing Sessions in a trade actually is not a bad deal all things considered. Although Ramon matches or falls below Deron in pretty much every statistical category he is still a hardworking, upper-middle tier NBA guard. In 2011-12, his mid-season trade from the Cavaliers to the Lakers boosted him from a bench role to a starting one, gave him an entirely new playbook to grasp, and transitioned him from playing with a mix of role players to hustling hard with stars like Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol. The past season was also Ramon Sessions’ first in the playoffs (a daunting stage for any young player) and he managed to contribute quite well before the Lakers were outplayed by the Oklahoma City Thunder. While he has nowhere near the player potential ceiling as Williams does, Ramon’s past year playing with Bynum and the Lakers would actually position him to be an excellent play initiator alongside inside big Andrew Bynum and perimeter threat/floor speedster MarShon Brooks in Nets’ Coach Avery Johnson’s attack offense. The Nets might feel that they’ve got their backs against the wall with Williams wanting out, but getting Sessions in return with Bynum makes for a smart haul without losing much of a step.
Having explored the pros and cons of each player involved in the trade proposal, now we can review the nitty gritty financial outlook for the Lakers (the Nets can plan out their own future without my insight, haha). There is a whole other set of short and long-term questions the Lakers need to consider, but none greater than ‘how can we contend for a championship now AND cut our financial tax burdens over the next few years?’… A near impossible task given the more stringent restrictions of the updated collective bargaining agreement:
As noted in my previous posts (exploring trades for Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and other NBA stars) the next few years are going to be increasingly financially restrictive for all of the NBA’s teams. The 2012-13 season is the last ‘$1 for $1’ luxury tax year, with new incremental penalty increases being instituted for the 2013-14 season. As if that isn’t enough, a ‘repeater’ tax starts up during the 2014-15 season which adds even MORE tax penalties for teams over the luxury tax in back-to-back years. When looking at the Lakers’ fiscal outlook, the next two years are not going to be pleasant. Whether a trade for Deron Williams and Brook Lopez happens or not, the team is going to feel the pain of the taxman, but we’re going to explore the trade ‘as fact’ for the sake of the analysis.
Kobe Bryant’s salary is going to balloon to $27.8 and $30.4 million over the next two years, which when bringing back Deron Williams for Andrew Bynum doesn’t seem to bode well for ‘sensible’ financial planning. Assuming Pau Gasol remains on the team (if no other team’s offer is good enough and the Lakers want to maintain a ‘twin towers’ tandem of Gasol and Lopez) his bloated salary also cuts deep. Deron will no doubt receive a much deserved salary bump, with maximum 7.5% annual increases (possible from a sign-and-trade from his ‘current’ team the Nets packaged over to his ‘new’ team the Lakers) getting him north of $20 million a year by 2014-15. Brook Lopez will come over on a cheap contract due to expire at the end of next season. Even if the Lakers can negotiate a ‘smart’ $7.5 million salary with no more than 6.0% annual raises for Lopez, that leaves the team with little to no wiggle room for rounding out with role players (not to mention the $13.6 and $11.0 million on the books for other players currently on the roster for 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively)… Oh and the Lakers also owe Metta World Peace another $15 million for the next two years too, and NO ONE will trade for him despite his greatly improved play in the 2nd half of last season. So other than digging deep to find some cheap ‘gold nugget’ contract players to bolster the bench, the Lakers would be looking at big financial obligations and tax penalties for two more years.
After 2013-14 is a whole other story. Come the beginning of the 2014-15 season the Lakers could be poised to clear out three players with some of the heaviest contracts (and possibly extend the first two at severely discounted rates); Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace.
As a living Laker Legend and the only player with a personal ‘no trade’ clause in his contract, Kobe Bryant will most certainly wear the purple and gold for the next two years unless he says otherwise. By 2014-15, however, Kobe will have played a full 18 years in the league, and despite his numerous championships, records, and immortal moments the Black Mamba will either have to ride into the sunset or take a major pay-cut to get two more years under his belt (perhaps to finish a full 20 seasons?). $5 million per year for 2 more years is a wholly-optimistic estimate, I know, but given the Lakers’ need to move on it would be a sensible self-imposed financial restriction they would have to hold to despite their great affinity for Kobe Bryant.
Pau Gasol (assuming he isn’t traded) is another Laker title contributor that could potentially be up for a ‘$5 million per year for 2 more years’ contract offer in 2014-15, should the Lakers be so kind. No one doubts his amazing finesse, high basketball IQ, and team-oriented playmaking which contributed to 2 titles and 3 Finals appearances (thus far), but the last two years of ‘running out of gas’ in the playoffs have made him increasingly expendable to the team. The need to push back against the luxury cap outweighs Pau’s recent contributions, and if he compliments Brook Lopez well (and mentors him exceptionally well in the process) he could morph into an aging ‘Kareem-like’ player worthy of possibly two more, cheaper years past his current contract (if there is spending room available after other role player/bench signings).
Despite all the ‘out of nowhere’ miracle shots, defensive doggedness, and improved versatility of Metta World Peace (the former Ron Artest) his time with the Lakers will surely be up at the end of his contract. MWP has given all of himself and more to the franchise but his increasing age and declining foot speed are making it harder and harder to justify his over $7 million a year contract. Even if he was willing to take the $1.2 million veteran’s minimum in 2014-15 the money spent on World Peace’s contract could be better spent elsewhere (or simply saved against biggest tax penalties), making it possible the Lakers consider using their one-time amnesty provision on him either before or after the 2012-13 season (depending on if the Deron Williams/Brook Lopez trade occurs). If Metta plays out his contract with the Lakers he will be 34 years old when it ends, a cagey veteran likely still able to contribute to a youth laden team. More than likely he won’t be brought back and can either look to move on or retire.
Should the three aforementioned player contract situations play out well the Lakers are looking to have some favorable financial flexibility heading their way by the 2014-15 season. Over the next two seasons (2014-15 and 2015-16) the team can spend around $28 million per year on filling out the rest of the roster, averaging between $3 million and $5 million for a variety of rookies, solid role players, and experienced veterans chasing their last hope for a ring. All this can be done while avoiding the millions of dollars in luxury and repeater taxes if Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace’s contract situations are handled properly. Futhermore, the team continues to have a star in Deron Williams and possible 2nd tier star in Brook Lopez, while always keeping an eye out for breakout talent along the way.
While this simple yet impactful trade effectively shuts the door on ‘The Dwight Howard Sweepstakes’, given the endless drama surrounding the Orlando Magic and their star center last season the headache might not be work the risk. The $109.1 and $175.7 (!!!) million in salary and luxury taxes to be paid in 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively will hurt immensely, but the Lakers can balance those out against complete lack of penalties over the following 3 seasons (leading to effectively pay out approximately just $20.0 million in taxes each of the next 5 years), retaining star talent in Deron Williams & Brook Lopez and (for a short while longer) Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol, and remaining a championship contending team all throughout. The 4 major ‘IFs’ need to be resolved first, but should the stars align it could mean big things for both the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets over the next half-decade.
Welcome back to the ‘Let’s Fix The Lakers’ series of posts. I was listening to Bill Simmons’ B.S. Report today and he and Joe House had some interesting discussion points:
The Lakers and Heat should swap Pau Gasol for Chris Bosh. The trade (costing a bit more for the Heat in salary) would make sense for both team, and be insanely helpful. Pau plays well on the low block inside (where Bynum was clogging it up) and the Heat need that inside presence. Meanwhile, the Lakers need to let Bynum kill the inside while having their PF play as a more 10-15 ft. shooter type (like Bosh is) and with some great athleticism (ditto). Billy Witz of FoxSports.com summed it up nicely (http://bit.ly/LA2z4v):
“Sending Gasol to Miami for Chris Bosh might just be the missing piece for both franchises. The salaries are a close enough match to make it work: Gasol has two years and $38.2 million left on his contract; Bosh has four years (the last two are player options) and $78 million on his. And neither owner, the Heat’s Micky Arison nor the Lakers’ Jerry Buss, is afraid to go all in.”
If the aforementioned trade went down this would still work great if the Lakers then went after a Bynum-for-Howard trade. Dwight would kill on the inside, Bosh would terrorize one mid-range zone, while Kobe would get the other.
While the idea doesn’t fully address the Lakers’ point guard concerns, Simmons also mentioned Nash would likely go to either the Lakers or the Heat next year. However, IF Phil Jackson would take the Heat coaching job (a chance to coach LeBron AND Wade? Hmmm…) then having Nash there would just make him a spot-up shooter. On the Lakers he could help direct the offense, teach Ramon Sessions (if we still have him) how to be a more elite PG, and either start or come off the bench for some instant offense. Neither team would have big spending room left, but at this point in his career if Nash wishes to win a title more than net a big contract that shouldn’t be a big problem.
However, if both the Pau-for-Bosh and Bynum-for-Dwight moves went down then we would have no chance at Deron Williams. Already the Nets aren’t too hot on Pau, but if Deron clearly stated he wanted to go to the Lakers, then getting Pau would really be one of the best bets for the Nets. A Pau and MarShon Brooks combo would be quite nice, (Gerald Wallace helps too) and they could mine the free agent pool for another decent player to insert into the group.
In the aftermath of the Lakers’ 2nd year in a row second-round exit it’s looking like there may be more trade options for Pau than originally thought. Some will help with the point guard situation (if the Lakers want a more elite player than Ramon Sessions, or he turns down his team option and goes someplace else) while others will close the door on it. Thus far here are what seem like the best bets (excluding draft picks, other players, and cash considerations which would be needed for most any trades to work):
- Pau to the Nets for Deron Williams (solves star PG problem)
- Pau to the Heat for Chris Bosh (solves mid-post/elbow PF issue with dominant big in Bynum/Howard)
- Pau to the Rockets for Luis Scola & Kyle Lowry (replaces with quality PF and budding star PG)
- Pau to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love (provides a younger, increasingly skilled star PF)
Pau to the Bulls for Carlos Boozer & C.J. Watson(Derrick Rose’s ACL tear just made keeping Watson essential to the Bulls)
It’s going to be quite a busy summer for the Lakers, primarily concerning Pau Gasol. While the Bynum situation is more black and white (a straight trade for Dwight Howard or just keep Bynum and extend him), the Gasol dilemma has many avenues to be explored before any major decisions are made.
This morning writer Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated reported that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic would do well to swap their star centers, and that Brooklyn Nets star point guard Deron Williams was allegedly increasingly interested in a possible trade to the Lakers (http://bit.ly/KzmkVJ). This got me thinking again about more Laker business transactions, and how it could possibly come together for a revamped championship-primed Laker team, and one prepared for a post-Kobe Bryant era.
IF Deron had the balls to tell the Nets he’s out then this can go down. However, there are more moving gears in place. The Magic and Lakers need to talk and get the Bynum-for-Howard deal done FIRST. This would close the door on the Nets possibly even asking for Bynum if they were willing to ship Deron out. Then the Nets would then have to agree to a sign-and-trade with the Lakers, though Gasol (and filler?) might be the only tradeable pieces. This might screw the Nets pretty bad, but it’s either they land Gasol as their marquee player (not great since the last time he was the ‘star’ on a team it was Memphis and he didn’t embrace the role) or just lose D-Will for nothing.
The big problem for the Lakers would (once again) be paying 3 stars big money and not having enough room to fill out the bench. That’s why much of this is a crazy pipe dream. We’d all love to have Deron Williams over Ramon Sessions but D-Will commands so much money that our bench would be crap.
IF The Lakers wanted to risk some big moves this could be the behind-closed-doors gamble they could pull:
* Go after Dwight Howard with a trade for Bynum, extend Dwight to a max five year deal:
At 4.5% annual raises from his $19.3 mil contract in 2012/13 that totals $105.4million through 2016/17
* Go after Deron Williams with a sign-and-trade for Gasol (and maybe another cheap player), extend Deron to a max five year deal:
At 4.5% annual raises from his $17.8 mil contract in 2012/13 that totals $97.3 million through 2016/17
* Plan to NOT re-sign Kobe after his contract ends after the 2013/14 season (when he’ll be 35) UNLESS he’s willing to take a severely discounted salary for 2 years (so he can retire at 37, a full 20 YEAR career), say about $5 mil a season (the Lakers can tell him this when his current contract is up– sneaky!
* Scout, scout, and SCOUT to find young, athletic, and cheap defensive and perimeter shooting pieces, though careful not to spend more than $2-4 mil on each, including the possibility of small trades.
Remember, only your most recent team can offer you the max 7.5% annual raises. Your new team can offer you only 4.5% maximum raises. If the player opts for a shorter contract (say 3 years) then at the end of that he can get a new contract with the team he’s been on with maximum 7.5% raises at that point. In other words, a longer deal NOW with shorter maximum raises would likely means the Lakers paying them less money through the next five years:
Through the 2012-13 season it’s $1 over the cap = $1 more in penalties. Going above the Salary Cap means you give your tax money (if any, otherwise just the league pays out ‘help’) to teams that are below the Salary Cap, but going over the Punitive Tax means you pay big time taxes.
Beginning with the 2013-14 season, tax rates for incremental spending above the tax level will increase as follows:
* $0-5 million over tax level – $1.50 for $1
* $5-10 million over tax level – $1.75 for $1
* $10-15 million over tax level – $2.50 for $1
* $15-20 million over tax level – $3.25 for $1
However, the repeater tax (in addition to the luxury tax, more punitive) kicks in for teams over the cap in 2014-15 onwards (multiple years over the cap). For each year REPEATING over the luxuy tax they have to ALSO pay these repeater penalties:
* $0-5 million over tax level – $1.50 for $1
* $5-10 million over tax level – $1.75 for $1
* $10-15 million over tax level – $2.50 for $1
* $15-20 million over tax level – $3.25 for $1
This still causes money worries for the Lakers (Almost $470 MILLION over the next 5 years!!), but can still be done if they’re willing to eat the taxes at different times to get all three stars together, and sunset Kobe Bryant in 2 years (or more if he’ll take a lesser paycut for 2 more years). It’s a big series of ‘what ifs’, gambles, and risks, but the Lakers have never been a team to shy away from the drama, risk-taking, and stardom of Los Angeles.