It hasn’t even been a week since the Los Angeles Lakers accomplished their goal and brought an NBA championship back to the city.
For their legion of fans around the world, it was the culmination of a campaign unlike any other, as international politics, a worldwide pandemic, and the tragic loss of a legend besieged the team. Led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the team’s adaptability on and off the floor was critical.
As they dealt with one emotional hurdle after another, the Lakers also found ways to adapt to each opponent on the hardwood, swapping out lineups and rotations in a way that provided them with necessary advantages.
Now, while we wait for the ability to safely schedule a championship parade, the organization has to turn their attention to next season. And here’s the scary part for the rest of the NBA: the Lakers might be even better in the 2020-21 season.
The league’s salary cap currently sits in limbo along with a number of other things, like the start of free agency, the lifting of the transaction moratorium, and even the start date for next season. The collective bargaining agreement is simply not capable of navigating these unique challenges, so the NBA and NBPA have to negotiate solutions the will work for all.
Neither side wants to see the salary cap drastically drop, which it would if the league stuck with the old formula based on basketball related income (BRI). With no fans in arenas since March, the resulting salary cap plunge would leave players with offers well below market value as teams that weren’t expecting to be over the cap suddenly found themselves well over.
To avoid that nightmare, most believe that the cap will be artificially propped up at the same level as last season, which was $109 million. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all teams will be going on a spending spree whenever free agency opens, particularly with no true superstar level talent available now that Anthony Davis is rumored to be sticking with the Lakers.
There are, however, a number of role players who can help a team that already has a solid core, like say one built around James and Davis.
Unfortunately for them, only a handful of teams will have cap room available, and some will prefer to save it for next offseason, with the 2021 free agent class headlined by Giannis Antetkounmpo but also potentially including the likes of Rudy Gobert, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Rudy Gobert, among others.
What that all adds up to is a 2020 NBA free agency environment that simply won’t have enough money available for every player to get the contract they deserve. When the money dries up, those left standing will have to consider taking a short-term deal that will allow them to get back into the market quickly in the hopes future seasons create a more favorable environment.
There will be bargains out there and that makes the Lakers an intriguing option for any number of players. After all, we’ve already seen what playing alongside James can do to boost a player’s value, and if they have to take a short, below-market-value deal somewhere, it might as well be in a sunny place like L.A. and with a Lakers team that can win a championship.
That said, the Lakers won’t have much in the way of spending power, and they very well may prioritize their own free agents, with rumors already suggesting that Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope intend to opt-out of their deals and Dwight Howard, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, JR Smith and Dion Waiters all hitting free agency.
Coming off of a championship, the key players will undoubtedly look for raises, but the lack of money on the market could put the Lakers in a strong position.
For example, the Golden State Warriors have been linked to Howard, and if they come in strong with an offer that the Lakers aren’t comfortable competing with, other bigs on the market include Hassan Whiteside, DeMarcus Cousins, Nerlens Noel, Marc Gasol, Aron Baynes, Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap, and Tristan Thompson (who already has experience playing with James and is a Klutch Sports client).
And it isn’t just the bigs.
The free-agent landscape is also filled with solid guard and wing players like Dario Saric, Chris Boucher, Jae Crowder, Marcus Morris, Goran Dragic, Carmelo Anthony, Jeff Teague, Kent Bazemore, Justin Holiday, Maurice Harkless, Jeff Green. The list goes on and on.
Some won’t get the offers they are hoping for, and that will provide Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka with the opportunity to grab even more depth.
Of course, team chemistry is a fickle thing, and it was also one of the Lakers’ greatest strengths this past season. As such, continuity should be valued above all else. A player that’s only slightly better than the incumbent isn’t worth the turmoil that shaking up the roster could cause, especially after what the team went through together this season.
Rondo, Caldwell-Pope, Howard, and all of the rest will be priorities, but should a return not be in the cards, there will be talented options available, and the Lakers figure to be high on the free-agent wishlist.
As good as this team is, the players they land this offseason could very well make them even better.
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