July 16, 2024

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With LeBron James expected to return, the Lakers must offer him meaningful roster upgrades.

With LeBron James expected to return, the Lakers must offer him meaningful roster upgrades.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ 2024 season is off to an encouraging start.

They hired a bright young coach in JJ Redick. They took promising top-10 player Dalton Knecht with the 17th pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. They made history by teaming up LeBron James with his eldest son, Bronny James, with their 55th pick. They selected D’Angelo Russell, who was perhaps the biggest domino In the postseason, they joined, giving them a mid-sized expiring contract to potentially trade.

Then, on Saturday, approximately five hours before the 5 p.m. (ET) deadline, LeBron James decided to opt out of his contract with the intention of re-signing with the Lakers, according to The athleteThe sun of evil. The athlete Previous reports have indicated that the Lakers wanted James back and were open to offering him any type of contract he preferred.

James’s opt-out is another win for the Lakers, who could save at least $1.5 million in cap value by not exercising his $51.4 million player option next season. (The tradeoff for James is that he is eligible to have a no-trade clause added to his contract, allowing him to control his future.)

James may be willing to take a bigger pay cut if it allows the Lakers to open up the non-taxable mid-level exception (worth an estimated $12.9 million) for the right types of players, according to Bleacher Report. James’ agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, told ESPN that his client would only be willing to accept a cut for an “impact player,” with James Harden, Klay Thompson and Jonas Valanciñas among the names reported to fit the bill. The non-taxable mid-level exception would be a significant pay cut for Harden and Thompson, in particular.

However, there is mutual interest between the Lakers and Thompson. The athleteThis was first reported by Charania and Anthony Slater.

Thompson, a Southern California native, is the son of Michael Thompson, who played for the Showtime Lakers from 1987 to 1991 and is the team’s current radio commentator. The younger Thompson, 34, is a four-time NBA champion and one of the greatest shooters of all time. Thompson spent his 13 professional seasons with the Golden State Warriors, but the relationship has deteriorated to the point where Thompson will likely leave. The Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers are all seeking him.

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If James agrees to a deduction for the Lakers to reach the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception, the Lakers would be hard capped at the first apron of $178.7 million. This means James would have to take a cut of more than $16 million with his base salary at more than $33 million for the 2024-25 season. The most likely scenario for a pay cut would be for James to sign a two-year deal with a player option for 2025-26, allowing him to opt out in 2025 and re-sign for more money, according to league sources. The Lakers could also make a smaller salary offload trade (or two) to create more financial cap space and allow James a smaller cut.

If the Lakers are unsuccessful in signing a star or high-profile starter with the non-taxed mid-level exception, James will sign to the max, according to ESPN. If LeBron re-signs at his maximum salary for 2024-25 (about $49.9 million), the Lakers would have about $182.3 million in committed salary. That leaves them $8 million under the second apron ($189.5 million). James also wants to resolve his contract before he begins training at the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball camp on July 6 in Las Vegas.

Regardless of what happens with James, the Lakers are in a good position to upgrade their roster if they so choose. The proverbial ball is in their court as to how the rest of this season unfolds.

Earlier this week, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka tempered expectations — twice — by saying that trades were becoming more difficult to execute under the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement. On the face of it, that seems true, given the new punitive restrictions on the first and second stands.

At the same time, trading activity over the past week, especially near the top of the Western Conference, paints a different reality. In that time, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded defenseman Alex Caruso, the Minnesota Timberwolves traded No. 8 pick Rob Dillingham, the Denver Nuggets traded DA Ron Holmes II and traded up Reggie Jackson to try to retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the Dallas Mavericks traded away Tim Hardaway Jr. so they can keep starter Derrick Jones Jr. (or sign Thompson) and the New Orleans Pelicans made a smart deal for former Lakers target Dejounte Murray.

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The rest of the West is looking for ways to make deals that improve their rosters or serve as a prelude to other moves. Now the Lakers have to do the same.

They have the assets necessary to make a notable trade. Russell’s $18.7 million contract provides them with a level of flexibility in terms of the types of players they can pursue. Add one or both of their future first-round picks, up to three pick swaps and mid-sized salaries for Rui Hachimura, Jared Vanderbilt and/or Gabe Vincent, and the Lakers could be in the conversation for just about anything. -star (and even some low-end stars). And this again, is before we factor in the potential addition of Thompson or another high-impact player to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.

In terms of trades, it seems unlikely that the Lakers would sign a third star to a deal, unless an unexpected star is secretly available. Donovan Mitchell is said to be likely to sign a contract extension with Cleveland, which could rule him out. Trae Young’s move from Clutch Sports to CAA also makes a deal to the Lakers less likely, as… The athlete This has been reported previously. Murray is now in New Orleans and out of the lineup. Darius Garland may become available, but he’s a clear step down from Mitchell and Young’s star caliber.

Still, there are potential good options out there. Wings like Portland’s Jerami Grant, former Lakers Kyle Kuzma and Nets duo Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson are expected to be available on the trade market, according to league sources. They’re not the biggest needle movers, but any of those four players would bolster the Lakers’ perimeter defense, frontcourt size and/or floor spacing. Grant, for his part, would check all of those boxes; he’s quietly shot over 40 percent from 3s in back-to-back seasons in Portland.

The Lakers’ roster, as it stands, isn’t good enough to get out of the Western Conference. They can win a game, maybe even two, if they win the series, but they have too many holes compared to the rest of the top teams in the West, especially on the wings. Their perimeter size, defense, overall speed and physicality are lacking compared to their competition. James and Davis recently stated that they believe this roster needs upgrades.

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The Timberwolves, Thunder, Mavericks, and Pelicans all have better rosters than the ones they finished last season. Denver’s position could change if it loses Caldwell-Pope in free agency, and the Clippers would likely regress if they lose Paul George, but the larger point is that the rest of the West is revamping, which could create more distance between them and the Lakers. If the Lakers are as serious about competing for championships with James and Davis as they claim, they need to bolster this supporting cast.

The most pressing complication to this effort is the roster crisis the Lakers face. Assuming LeBron James is re-signed, they will have 14 players under contract after selecting Russell, Christian Wood, Jackson Hayes and Cam Reddish and drafting Kenneth and Bronny James. And that’s before taking into account other free agents (Max Christie, Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie) or any potential free agents.

Team sources confirmed that the Lakers have made a qualifying offer to Christie to officially make him a restricted free agent. The athlete. The front office wants to keep Christie and envision him as a rotation player next season, according to those sources. However, the Lakers would need to come up with additional money and a roster spot to sign Christie and another player with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.

Had Russell opted out, the Lakers would have had fewer options on the trade market. But with his pick, James was interested in taking a pay cut for the right free agent and the Lakers are armed with a mid-sized payroll, two first-round picks and multiple trade-ups, there’s no excuse for Los Angeles not to dramatically improve its roster with a big move or two. During the next few days.

(Top image: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)