While the Lakers are over the salary cap, they still may be able to re-sign valuable free agent role players with raises as well as signing a free agent third scorer, second playmaker, elite wing defender, or modern center.
The Lakers will have to take advantage of league exceptions which allow teams to go over the cap when signing free agents, synchronized execution of the transactions, and opportunistic use of their MLE in a buyers’ market. The Lakers won’t be able to bring back every role player who contributed to their championship but should be able to re-sign the three most important and irreplaceable role players while giving them well deserved raises.
Those three role players are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, and Markieff Morris, all of whom were invaluable contributors to the Lakers’ championship rotation and are essential to the team winning next season. KCP and Rondo are exercising their player options to become free agents while Morris will be a free agent when his 1-year minimum deal expires. The Lakers need to re-sign all three and give them well deserved raises.
Caldwell-Pope earned $8.1 million last season and could easily attract offers between $10 to $12 million as a free agent but the Lakers have his Bird rights and are allowed to go over the salary cap up to re-sign him. Kenny proved he was the team’s third best player and a key component of the offense and defense during the regular season and playoffs. The Lakers should reward him with a 2 or 3-year contract for $12 million per year.
Rondo earned $2.6 million last season and proved to be indispensable both as a floor general and playmaker in the playoffs, setting a record for the most assists from a player off the bench in the history of the NBA playoffs. Rajon should attract offers for taxpayers’ MLE, around $5 million next season. The Lakers have his Early Bird rights and should reward him with a 2-year contract for $6 million with the second year partially guaranteed.
Morris was a late addition replacing Avery Bradley before the season restart. As a power forward who could shoot from deep and defend, he was the catalyst that allowed Anthony Davis to play as center for the Lakers. Markieff earned $2.2 million last season but should receive offers of $3 to $4 million as a free agent. The Lakers should use their Bi-Annual Exception to re-sign him to a 2-year $3.6 per year million contract as he is a key player.
By using Bird rights to re-sign KCP, Early Bird rights to re-sign Rondo, and the Bi-Annual Exception to re-sign Morris, the Laker will have their full $9.3 million non-taxpayer Mid-Level Exception available to pursue free agents. With few teams having major cap space, the $9.3 million MLE and a chance to win a championship ring is likely to make the Lakers a major player for all but a half dozen elite free agents like Fred VanVleet or Davis Bertans.
The Lakers should have no problem filling roster needs with the MLE. How about Danilo Gallinari as their third scorer. Goran Dragic as their second playmaker, Mo Harkness as wing defender, or Aron Baynes as stretch big? There will only be five NBA teams with cap space to offer more to Gallinari, Dragic, Harkness, or Baynes than the Lakers and of those, only the Miami Heat had a winning record last season. The Lakers will get one of these.
Finally, the Lakers will end up with two or three roster spots to be filled by minimum salary veterans looking for an opportunity to win a championship ring or revitalize their career like Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo did. Heading the list of players in this category will be DeMarcus Cousins, who spent all of last year on the Lakers’ active roster or working out at their facilities after they waived him to sign Markieff Morris before the restart.
So while the Lakers don’t have cap space this offseason, they’re still going to be major players in the free agent market and should be able to re-sign their key free agent role players as well as signing at least one major free agent.