By: Jacob Shindel, Columnist
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The Los Angeles Lakers were crowned the 2019-2020 NBA Champions Oct. 11 after they defeated the Miami Heat in six games to win the Finals. A couple of days after their championship win, The Athletic reported that All-Star forward Anthony Davis is planning to opt out of his $28.7 million player option for next season, and will instead re-sign with the Lakers on a multi-year deal.
This is obviously a win-win for the Lakers, a team looking to compete for a title again next year, and Davis, a generational talent who has been regarded as one of the best players in the NBA since he entered the league in 2012. While the Lakers had to do this in order to remain competitive, re-signing Davis this offseason makes it more difficult for the team to keep the same roster for next year. The salary cap may be affected due to the pandemic, which would reduce the amount of cap space available. On top of that, Davis, who is definitely going to get a max contract, will make around $4 million more than what he would make if he were to pick up his player option.
The increase in Davis’ salary, combined with the possible lowering of the salary cap, means that the Lakers will not have that much money to spend and upgrade the team. In most other seasons, the defending champions could make minimal changes to the roster and still be considered title favorites. However, the league overall is going to get drastically better next year.
First off, the Western Conference seems to be even more stacked than last year. The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks will almost certainly be better given their young stars developing. The Golden State Warriors will be back with some combination of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and their second overall pick in this year’s draft. The Los Angeles Clippers will be looking to avenge their disappointing end to the season, and many other teams figure to be in the mix.
In the East, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will be back, as will the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and the Philadelphia 76ers. The biggest threat, however, might come from the Brooklyn Nets, who made the playoffs this year despite not having Kevin Durant for the entire season. The talent upgrade around the league will be hard to match for a Los Angeles Lakers team that is devoid of true young talent.
Over the past few days, it has been rumored that even some of the Lakers bench depth might be leaving to explore new teams, chasing larger contracts. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is expected to opt out of his player option for next season, with Rajon Rondo possibly following suit. Lakers center Dwight Howard is rumored to have a mutual interest in signing with the Warriors this offseason, raising questions about whether this team is good enough to repeat. Some of the Lakers players have Bird Rights, which allow them to re-sign with the Lakers, even if it means exceeding the salary cap limit. If they lose their own players to other teams, they will not necessarily be able to exceed the limit.
One of the biggest salary cap problems the Lakers will face this offseason is Danny Green, who is due a little over $15 million next year. Green, now 33 years old, lost his shooting touch throughout the playoffs, something that he has been known to excel at his entire career. With the large contract of Green, the Lakers might want to try to move his contract and add an enticing piece such as Kyle Kuzma, who has been rumored to be involved in trade talks with multiple teams.
Such a move made by the Lakers would sacrifice a young piece who has shown flashes and potential to be a viable third option, but it would also free up crucial salary cap space needed to sign players. The Lakers top priority this offseason, aside from signing Davis, should be to free up cap space by trading Green.
The team’s biggest question all season was how well their depth could play. In the playoffs, they showed that, while they don’t have a defined third man, different players can step up at different times. This year, their “third-guy-by-committee” approach worked, as it aided their championship run.
Since 2000, back-to-back championships have been friendly to the Lakers. They won in 2009 and 2010, while also winning three straight championships from 2000-2002. This bodes well for them. However, in a league that will feature much more talent next year, the Lakers can’t rely on their recent success in repeating. If the Lakers want to win again next year, they can not afford to simply go with the same team as last year.