The Los Angeles Lakers have difficult decisions ahead namely what players they are going to be able to keep with a mounting luxury tax bill. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Lakers are facing a potential payroll of $250 million next season if they opt to keep their core together.
Key players like Dennis Schroder and Alex Caruso are among those set to hit free agency this offseason. In an ideal world, the Lakers would like to keep both players. Schroder is making $15.5 million in the final season of his four-year, $70 million contract and is expected to get a pay bump on his next deal.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on the February 28th edition of NBA Countdown that the Lakers traded for Schroder with the idea that he will be with the team beyond this season. The Lakers just experienced a losing skid when Schroder was out as a result of COVID-19 protocols then proceeded to win the first two games in his return to the floor.
Earlier this season, Schroder expressed his desire to remain with the Lakers but emphasized he is looking for a “fair” deal. Wojnarowski reported in December that Schroder turned down a two-year, $33.4 million contract extension prior to the season.
“It’s amazing,” Schroder explained in January, per Bleacher Report. “That’s the reason why I think I want to be here long term, but like I said before, it’s got to be fair on both ends. If it’s fair, then I ain’t got no problems. It’s gonna be great to be here long term, for sure.”
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Caruso Could Demand a $9.5 Million Salary Next Season
Caruso is making $2.75 million this season but will get a massive increase with his new deal this offseason. Windhorst reported there is an expectation that the Lakers will be competing against teams willing to give the L.A. fan-favorite their entire mid-level exception, a $9.5 million salary.
“But there still could be 10 teams with $20 million or more in cap space and another handful with more than $10 million,” Windhorst explained. “That means the Lakers could have competition to keep their role players. 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.)”
Horton-Tucker Is Expected to Have a Big Market
Talen Horton-Tucker will be a restricted free agent meaning the Lakers can match any offer that comes his way. Windhorst estimates that Horton-Tucker could receive offers in the four-year, $60 million range, with the deal backloaded. An Eastern Conference executive told Windhorst that teams will still pursue the talented wing even if the Lakers can match any deal.
“He’s a gifted defender with great length and great upside who’s just 20 years old,” the NBA executive told ESPN. “In this market, that’s exactly the type of player you want to chase. There could be a few teams who put them to the test and give [Horton-Tucker] an offer sheet thinking they could pry him away.”
One way around all this would be for the Lakers to move Horton-Tucker or Caruso prior to the NBA trade deadline. This is complicated given their salaries are so low the Lakers would have trouble landing something of value in return. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne suggested on The Jump that the Lakers could use both players as trade bait if they want to get a head start on the buyout market.
“If the Lakers want to upgrade at that five spot, and they face competition for a couple of centers that might be available,” Shelburne explained. “If you don’t want to wait and see who’s available on the buyout market then you could get creative. Maybe they have a couple of young players that people like, Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso. I know Lakers fans will freak out if I even say those names because everybody loves them.”
The most likely scenario is the Lakers retain both players and attempt to keep them in free agency. The question is how much into the luxury tax Lakers ownership is willing to go, especially given this is the second straight season where the team will have a significant loss of revenue given the ongoing pandemic. According to Windhorst, the Lakers are potentially staring at a $100 million luxury tax bill to keep the team together.
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