The Lakers are looking to add a major piece after their playoff run ended early in a first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns. There are multiple ways their offseason can go with the safest bet being they re-sign most of their free agents and make some trades on the margins. Re-signing most of their rotation players could cost the 2021-22 Lakers between $275-$300 million in combined payroll and luxury tax payments.
If the Lakers wish to make significant changes, they will probably have to come through major trades. One route they can take to get creative is through a sign-and-trade. They can use that method to either acquire a veteran free agent, or to trade for a veteran on an existing contract with their own free agents.
Sign-and-trade for a free agent
There is a pathway for the Lakers to acquire a really good free agent via sign-and-trade, ideally a starting point guard. According to Marc Stein, the Lakers are seeking a playmaker and mentions Lonzo Ball as a potential target. Spencer Dinwiddie is another guard who has an interest in playing in Los Angeles, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. It would require sacrificing current players and not bringing back certain ones to fit one of these players in a sign-and-trade.
The starting salary of the free agent is important because the Lakers would become hard-capped if they acquire a free agent through a sign-and-trade. This could affect potential new contracts to core free agents such as Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker. Both could be looking at starting salaries around the $9.5 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception range (NT-MLE). The Lakers have sufficient Bird rights to re-sign both players to such contracts but still wouldn’t be able to exceed the hard cap doing so in this scenario.
They must also be able to get to at least 14 players within the projected $143 million hard cap after doing such a sign-and-trade. Because of hard cap constraints, players such as Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, and DeMar DeRozan will likely be too costly when factoring in the rest of the roster.
Just to create enough space below the hard cap to acquire a new starting guard via sign-and-trade would likely require not re-signing most of their free agents. They may also have to salary dump Montrezl Harrell if he opts in, and one of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma was given a three-year, $40 million extension and his $13 million salary in 2021-22 could be used in a sign-and-trade. For example, the Lakers could trade Kuzma straight up for Dinwiddie at a starting salary no higher than $18 million.
If the Lakers’ goal is to sign-and-trade for a new starting point guard while also re-signing both Caruso and Horton-Tucker, it could be possible. Getting all three free agents to agree on starting salaries that align under the hard cap will be a big challenge that the Lakers front office will need to figure out ahead of time.
ProFitX projects Caruso with a $7.5 million salary and Horton-Tucker with a $11.1 million salary. However, Horton-Tucker cannot be offered a contract with a starting salary higher than the $9.5 million NT-MLE by other teams this offseason.
Meanwhile, Dinwiddie projects with a $20.3 million salary with a floor of $16.5 million. Dinwiddie could get a four-year deal with starting salary at $16.7 million that would pay him a total of $72 million with full 5 percent raises. If on top of that, Caruso earns precisely his $7.5 million projection while Horton-Tucker earns slightly less than the full NT-MLE the Lakers might be able fill out the rest of the roster with six veteran minimum players and finish just below the currently projected $143 million hard cap.
Here’s an example of a scenario for how the Lakers roster could look like after pulling off a sign-and-trade, specifically Kuzma for Dinwiddie as discussed earlier, while keeping Caruso and Horton-Tucker. If they need to give more money to these players, they could tinker around the roster a bit by getting off Marc Gasol, or swap the No. 22 pick in a deal where they get a second-round pick that would earn the rookie minimum. It’s possible they lose one of Caruso and Horton-Tucker in the process, among other free agents, which could complicate the decision to go forward in this direction.
Sign-and-trade their free agents for a veteran under contract
If the Lakers wish to get their playmaker without dealing with hard cap limitations, their best bet is to trade for one under contract. According to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, the Lakers are pursuing veteran point guard options such as Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. He adds that a potential framework could include Dennis Schroder, Kuzma, and Horton-Tucker for Westbrook.
Sign-and-trading free agents to another team won’t trigger a hard cap for the Lakers. Also, there aren’t any restrictions to how many free agents a team can include in a single sign-and-trade. Both Schroder and Horton-Tucker can be included to help match salaries. The one thing that could complicate the deal is Base Year Compensation (BYC) which will limit the outgoing salaries of Schroder and Horton-Tucker.
For example, if Schroder were to get a contract with a starting salary higher than $18.6 million, his outgoing salary will be $15.5 million, his 2020-21 salary. Also, if Horton-Tucker were to get a starting salary at his Early Bird maximum at around $10 million, his outgoing salary would be 50 percent of that amount, or $5 million.
The Lakers need to come up with $35.3 million in outgoing salaries to match for Westbrook. Combining Kuzma’s $13 million with the hypothetical outgoing salaries of Schroder’s $18.6 million and Horton-Tucker’s $5 million, would match salaries for Westbrook. Alternatively, if Harrell opts in, the Lakers could substitute his $9.7 million salary for Horton-Tucker.
Afterward, the Lakers will have no restrictions in regards to re-signing their other free agents, but their expenses could still reach the $275-300 million range.
Note: ProFitX is a dynamic financial and performance index powered by Artificial Intelligence with front-office optics displaying 17 visual and time-series models for 480-plus NBA athletes. The Athledex models historical, dynamic and future performance data to monitor and project insights on contracts, performance, injuries, team fit, development, and potential.