NBA free agency doesn’t begin until Aug. 2, but rumors have the Los Angeles Lakers in the market for roughly half of the players in the NBA that have expiring contracts. The Lakers’ championship defense turned into an injury-marred slog. LeBron James missed 27 games with injuries, while Anthony Davis was out for 36. Coach Frank Vogel had to roll out 25 different starting lineups in a 72-game season, none for more than 20 games.
The Lakers fell into the Western Conference play-in tournament after a 42–30 finish, grabbing the seventh seed and losing to the Phoenix Suns in the first round. That has led analysts to start putting together more extensive and elaborate sign or trade packages for LA. They’re linking the Lakers to Chris Paul (who won’t be a free agent unless he wants to be), Kawhi Leonard, Lonzo Ball, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, and perhaps a clone of prime Oscar Robertson. Who knows?
Since many fans see the sign-and-trade arrangement as the magic cure-all for whatever ails a team, those scenarios are threatening to bring the cloud out of the sky from the sheer mass of them. Before we dig into any potential player the Lakers could get, we should look at the specifics surrounding the sign-and-trade possibility.
How could the Los Angeles Lakers use a sign-and-trade?
Contrary to popular belief, a team cannot call up another team with a free agent and demand a sign-and-trade. The process doesn’t work that way. Instead, it is a vehicle for a team to re-sign one of its free agents to trade them. The player is re-signed and immediately swapped to another team, per CBA FAQ. The contract stipulates that if the trade doesn’t happen within 48 hours, the signing goes away like it never happened.
The Keith Van Horn loophole has been closed, as well, meaning that to be signed and traded, a player has to have finished the previous season with the team dealing them. In February 2008, the Dallas Mavericks used the sign-and-trade provision to send Van Horn (already retired) to the New Jersey Nets to make the finances work for the Jason Kidd trade.
But there are some problems the Los Angeles Lakers would encounter should they attempt a sign-and-trade this offseason. The biggest is that a team acquiring a sign-and-trade player becomes effectively hard-capped. The luxury tax apron becomes a line in the proverbial sand.
And that’s where the second problem for the Lakers comes into play.
The Lakers don’t have a lot coming back in 2021–22
The Los Angeles Lakers have 10 players on their roster that become free agents on Aug. 2. An 11th player, Montrezl Harrell, has until July 31 to exercise or decline his $9.5 million player option. Per Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, Harrell will likely exercise his option to remain with the Lakers (at least for now).
LA has seven players under contract for next season, but those seven eat up $116.9 million of cap space already. That puts the Lakers $4.5 million over the cap with less than half a roster. The cap apron is $136.6 million.
A sign-and-trade would mean the Lakers would have to construct a viable 15-player roster with less than $20 million. That would include the salary of the player acquired in the deal. Do you think Paul opts out of $45 million in Phoenix to take the veteran’s minimum for the Lakers? Good luck with that. For the record, the veteran’s minimum next season for Paul is $2.64 million.
Could the Los Angeles Lakers retain any depth with a sign-and-trade?
The Los Angeles Lakers undoubtedly have some of their free agents they would not choose to retain. Dennis Schröder’s disappearing act in the first round of the playoffs likely means he’s gone.
But the Lakers would like to have Markieff Morris return. Fans would hate to see the Bald Mamba, Alex Caruso, leave the club. And Talen Horton-Tucker has proven he’s a valuable rotation piece.
Veterans chasing a ring will play for discounts. We know this to be true.
However, Paul has never played for a discount, and as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, he is highly doubtful to do so. Do you think Ball will be willing to cut the Lakers a price break after they ran him out of town? Is Dinwiddie going to settle for $2.24 million after making 10 times that the last two seasons?
The Los Angeles Lakers want to add to their roster. But a sign-and-trade isn’t feasible if they’re going to, you know, have an actual roster.
Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.