The rules regarding sign-and-trades changed dramatically with the new CBA. While the new rules won’t have much of an effect on guys who aren’t worthy of a max contract, they will have a major impact on guys like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. The difference now is that the maximum amount of years and money that a player can get in a sign-and-trade is exactly the same as the maximum years and money he could get if just signs with his new team as a free agent. In other words, why would a free agent intentionally weaken his new team by forcing them to give up players and/or draft picks when he can just sign with them for the exact same amount of money?
This is good news if you want the Lakers to re-sign Dwight because it means that there isn’t a scenario in which he plays for another team next season without having to take a $30 million pay cut over the length of the contract. However, if Dwight is intent on signing with Houston and taking that pay cut, the Lakers would probably try to get back a few of the young players the Rockets would have to renounce to free up the cap space they need to give Dwight the most money they can offer him.
However, if Dwight was content with taking the pay cut and was adamant about leaving the Lakers and playing for a team without the cap space to sign him, the Lakers would have to engage in sign-and-trade discussions to accomodate him and get something back in return.
Another new rule under the new CBA states that teams more than $4 million over the luxury tax cannot acquire a player via sign-and-trade. So don’t waste your time dreaming up scenarios in which Paul Millsap or J.J. Redick is signed-and-traded to the Lakers.
The Lakers Should Just Let Dwight Leave
If your rationale for not wanting Dwight back is because you don’t think he’s worth the max and you are worried about how much cap space he will consume, you still need to remember that he is also the reason why any free agent would want to sign with the Lakers when they have cap space in 2014.
Even if you were unimpressed with the season Dwight had and you want him gone, you have to realize how few prime assets the Lakers currently have. Their best player is about to turn 35 and has a torn Achilles, their starting power forward will soon be 33 and just underwent a procedure to remove scar tissue from both of his knees, their starting point guard is 39 and has a back condition called spondylolisthesis, and their small forward is 33 and shot 40 percent last year.
In other words, keeping him and trading him later is still preferable to letting him walk for nothing. This isn’t Major League Baseball where teams get compensatory draft picks for losing free agents.
Besides having a bunch of old guys who are breaking down physically, they only have two first round picks between now and 2018. The NBA prohibits teams from trading consecutive first-round draft picks. Since the Lakers already traded away their 2013, 2015, and 2017 picks in the Ramon Sessions and Dwight Howard trades, they can’t trade their 2014, 2016, or 2018 picks without acquiring an additional pick in one of those drafts first. They can also give teams the right to swap picks with them in 2014, 2016, or 2018, since they would still have a pick.
I always hear Lakers fans include hypothetical first-round picks in trade scenarios because they think that will be enough to convince a team to make a lopsided trade. Besides the fact that it’s wrong, try to remember that it isn’t really possible right now either.
There are a few things wrong with any amnesty scenario involving Kobe, the most important of which is that even if he were to go unclaimed, the Lakers wouldn’t be able to re-sign him until July 1, 2014. A prearranged deal in which Kobe would agree to sign with the Lakers after the season is also illegal. More importantly, the Lakers would also lose his Bird Rights and the ability to go over the cap to sign him.
Besides, if he is amnestied and claimed by another team and is healthy enough to play at any point next season, does anyone really think he’d choose to stay sidelined for the rest of the year and not play? What’s to prevent him from re-signing with his new team if he’s happy and his new team is close to a championship?
The other thing about this scenario that a lot of people seemed to be confused by is that just removing Kobe’s salary from the books still wouldn’t be enough to give the Lakers any cap space. That’s how far over the cap they are. It would only give them luxury tax relief. There is a common misconception that amnestying a player allows you to spend every dollar of that player’s salary elsewhere. That’s only the case if amnestying the player gives them cap space. Even if the Lakers were to free up significant cap space by amnestying Kobe and finding a team to take Pau, is Chris Paul giving up $30 million to play with Dwight, Metta, Steve Nash, and Steve Blake? Bill Simmons seems to think it’s possible but it’s not really as easy as he makes it sound (for more on why Simmons isn’t entirely accurate plus the different ways in which the Lakers could sign Dwight and Paul, click here.)
Personally, I don’t think the Lakers will amnesty Kobe. I don’t think many season ticket holders will be excited to renew their seats to watch last year’s team without Kobe. Oftentimes people forget a team still has to pay almost all of an amnestied player’s salary. Even with a massive luxury tax savings, that’s still a lot of money to pay someone to play for another team, even for only one season. Paying $85 million for Kobe with the luxury tax might still be worth more to the franchise than paying him $25 million to play for the Mavericks. As long as Kobe is on the roster, the franchise will remain relevant, regardless of their record.
That doesn’t mean I’m 100% convinced the Lakers wouldn’t amnesty him if it puts the franchise’s future in better shape and keeps season ticket holders renewing.