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Lakers Look to Second Wave of Free Agents

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Times Staff Writer

After a series of false starts because of labor-deal delays, the Lakers will finally remove some yellow tape from their reconstruction site today.

This morning’s lifting of a league moratorium on trades and free-agent signings signals the continuation of an industrious summer for the Lakers, who will officially gain Kwame Brown, lose Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins, and re-sign Luke Walton to a two-year contract.

They shortly will also reach a decision on forward Brian Grant -- they are leaning strongly toward waiving him to save almost $30 million in luxury taxes -- and will explore a secondary free-agent market of sorts while trying to sign a player or two who drop from the “amnesty” tree.

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A provision in the new collective bargaining agreement allows teams to waive one player by Aug. 15 to avoid paying luxury taxes on his salary. Such amnesty players will be paid by the teams that release them until their contracts expire but are allowed to draw a second, presumably smaller, salary from another team.

Sensible targets for the Lakers would be Golden State guard Derek Fisher, a former Laker who is familiar with Coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, and high-scoring Toronto Raptor swingman Jalen Rose, although it’s not a guarantee that either will be waived.

Other amnesty candidates include New York Knick guard Allan Houston, Dallas Maverick forward Michael Finley, Portland Trail Blazer guard Derek Anderson, Indiana Pacer forward Austin Croshere, Orlando Magic guard Doug Christie and Boston Celtic center Raef LaFrentz.

Eight to 10 teams probably will take advantage of the one-time opportunity to waive a player, leading to an infusion of free agents at relatively inexpensive prices.

“We’ll continue to look at our roster and make changes where we feel we need to upgrade,” Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. “I don’t feel we’re done.”

Fisher, 30, has five years and $32 million left on his contract with the Warriors, but his role lessened when Baron Davis was acquired before the trade deadline in February. Still, he averaged a career-best 11.9 points and had 4.1 assists a game for the Warriors, who would rather trade him than waive him.

Rose, 32, averaged 18.5 points last season for the Raptors and would fill the Lakers’ needs in numerous ways. He has played point guard, shooting guard and small forward, and, at 6 feet 8, fits Jackson’s desire for tall, athletic guards. But the Raptors, like the Warriors, would rather trade Rose than receive luxury-tax relief by waiving him.

The salary cap for the season is $49.5 million, and the luxury-tax threshold is $61.7 million, with teams paying a dollar-for-dollar penalty on payrolls exceeding the threshold.

The Lakers are well over the cap with a payroll of almost $68 million, but they still have the $5-million midlevel exception and the $1.7-million biennial exception allotted to teams even if they are over the cap.

If the Lakers used both of their exceptions and also signed a player for the veterans’ minimum of about $1.2 million, they would be about $14 million over the luxury-tax threshold. Grant will make $14.3 million next season, which means the Lakers would pay little or no luxury tax if they waived him. They would continue to pay his salary, and he would be free to sign with another team.

Grant, who came to the Lakers from the Miami Heat as part of the Shaquille O'Neal trade in July 2004, averaged 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds last season, both career lows. He averaged 11 points and 8.5 rebounds in four seasons with the Heat.

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The Lakers signed Von Wafer to a two-year deal worth about $1 million. The second year on Wafer’s deal is not guaranteed. Wafer, a 6-foot-5 guard from Florida State, was drafted 39th. He averaged 12.8 points on the Lakers’ summer league team.

“We like his size, his energy and he has great range,” Kupchak said. “He’s a young guy who we think, with the proper coaching, could one day be a good player.”


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