Lakers a Potential Landing Spot for $177 Million 3-Time All-Star, Says Insider

rob pelinka

Getty Los Angeles Lakers GM Rob Pelinka.

The Los Angeles Lakers may not have made any major roster moves this summer, but the franchise is poised to bring more stars to Hollywood during the 2023 offseason. The Lakers are projected to have $34.3 million in cap space next offseason, per Spotrac.

It is a number that looks a lot more appealing after LeBron James signed a two-year contract extension which keeps the superstar in Los Angeles through at least the 2024-25 season. The Lakers have had trouble finding a third star to play alongside James and Anthony Davis with Russell Westbrook underwhelming in this role last season. The Athletic’s Jovan Buha and Sam Amick outlined some potential free-agent targets for the Lakers next offseason, including Bucks star Khris Middleton.

“As it stands, the Lakers only have James ($46.9 million), Davis ($40.6 million) and rookie Max Christie ($1.7 million) under contract for the 2023-24 campaign,” Buha and Amick wrote on September 16. “(Jones also has a player option worth $2.6 million.) With the salary cap projected to be $134 million, Los Angeles could create upwards of $30 million to $35 million or so in cap space. If their widely known interest in Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving isn’t satisfied via trade by then, Irving could reunite with James the easy way when he’s an unrestricted free agent. Other notable free agents could include Khris Middleton (player option), Fred VanVleet (player option), Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Herro (restricted) and Jordan Poole (restricted).”

The Lakers Will Likely Try to Avoid Taking on Contracts Beyond 2023

The Lakers find themselves in a dilemma, especially if they want to find a trade partner for Westbrook. The former All-Star guard may have a $47 million salary but the good news is it comes off the books after this season. Los Angeles is likely looking for a potential deal that also features expiring contracts, which would allow the team to be active in free agency in 2023.

“Those are the kinds of high-level options that could be out there, so long as they don’t agree to take on any players whose deals run beyond this season in a Westbrook trade,” Buha and Amick added. “Add in that retaining the first-round picks could open up all sorts of impactful opportunities on the trade market, and you start to see why there’s such a strong reluctance to make any moves that would hinder this plan.”

Middleton Could Be a Perfect 3rd Star for the Lakers

Middleton posted 20.1 points, 5.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 37.3% from the three-point line during his 66 starts during the 2021-22 season. The Lakers would need a few things to work in their favor to have a chance at landing Middleton.

The Bucks star still has two seasons remaining on his five-year, $177.5 million contract, but has a player option that would allow him to become a free agent next offseason if exercised. Even with the Lakers’ projected cap space, L.A. may find it financially challenging to sign the star who has a $37.9 million salary for 2022-23 and will likely be looking for a raise if he chooses to opt out of his current deal.

Middleton appears to be a perfect compliment to James and Davis given his unique skillset. The guard is an elite three-point shooter going a career 39.2% from long range. Middleton has an impeccable resume as a three-time All-Star and NBA champion. Middleton played a critical role in helping the Bucks win the 2021 NBA finals. The veteran averaged 24 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals during the Bucks’ Finals win over the Suns.

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