The Los Angeles Lakers are still squarely focused on a championship defense with multiple months until the postseason begins. However, general manager Rob Pelinka, Governor Jeanie Buss and other front office decision-makers face a tough task in the upcoming offseason.
With only LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Marc Gasol under guaranteed contracts for 2021-22, L.A. already has $110.3 million on the books. This is before the player option of Montrezl Harrell and the impending free agency of guys like Dennis Schroder, Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso.
Schroder can agree to an extension before free agency begins, giving Lakers the first right of refusal. There’s no reason why the Lakers wouldn’t pay Schroder a fair amount given his value to the current roster. Horton-Tucker will be a restricted free agent, meaning L.A. can match any offer. This leaves Caruso as the biggest question mark remaining.
While he won’t receive any offers in the $20 million range, Caruso reportedly has suitors that would be willing to pay him as much as $10 million per year, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN:
As an athletic guard who can defend, unrestricted free agent Caruso will have suitors. League executives think he could draw interest at the full midlevel exception range, which is $9.5 million next season. (Caruso currently earns $2.7 million.)
The full mid-level exception — valued at $9.5 million — is exactly what the Lakers are paying Harrell this season. L.A. can pay Harrell as much as $11.5 million without having to use the mid-level exception, meaning Caruso could find himself in this spot.
The Lakers have bird rights on every single one of their free agents, including Harrell should he opt out of his player option. What this does for L.A. is it allows them to pay more than any other team to retain their players and can go over the salary cap to do so.
So while keeping all of their players from this season is possible, it will be extremely expensive. Keeping Schroder, Harrell, Caruso, and Horton-Tucker all at their potential market value could mean a payroll of approximately $170 million after filling out veteran minimum contracts.
That payroll would mean the largest luxury tax bill in NBA history. The Lakers have never been shy about spending money in the past, but it would require a massive commitment from Buss to keep the team together.
Caruso declined offer for Dunk Contest
It’s no secret that Caruso is a fan-favorite with the Lakers, and he recently received a chance to gain more exposure across the league as it was reported that he was invited to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend in Atlanta.
He declined the invitation, which doesn’t come as a big surprise as rest is most important after the Lakers came off the shortest offseason in NBA history.
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