For Lakers, ‘Wait ‘til next year’ is more, ‘Wait, what comes next year?’
The Lakers won’t be sweeping confetti from their hair next June. Figueroa will be bereft of purple and gold.
That over-30 wins wager you made last month? Doesn’t look so solid right now.
These are sad times for Lakers fans who, at the risk of sounding like Clippers followers over the decades, can already adopt rueful “Wait ‘til next year” smiles.
But what exactly is in store for them? Certainly sunnier skies, no?
It’s only a maybe. Call it partly cloudy with time needed for hailstorms to clear. Patience and luck required too for a franchise that turned four players into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, morphed Kwame Brown into Pau Gasol and took a gamble on a 17-year-old from Philadelphia for veteran Vlade Divac.
As the Lakers sit with a dilapidated 3-10 record, their finances already look pretty crunched next season.
Bryant will make $25 million at 37 years old while Nick Young, Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly take up another $10 million. Various player options (Ed Davis) and team options (Jordan Clarkson, Robert Sacre) could add another $3 million, though Davis could opt out and drive that number even higher. Leave room for an estimated $5 million for their likely two first-round draft picks.
It’s easy to see the Lakers allocating $43 million toward only nine players amid a conservatively estimated salary cap of $66 million for 2015-16. Throw in troublesome mandatory things called “cap holds” and the Lakers have only $21.5 million to spend next summer on free agents.
More troubling thoughts — there’s no guarantee they get who they want, as they’ve found out the last two summers.
They’ll have enough money next July to offer a maximum contract to one free agent. They could also try offering contracts starting at about $11 million annually to two non-maximum players.
For the dreamers, some of the notable high-end free agents are Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo and Goran Dragic. Kevin Love could also decide to not return to Cleveland.
Other free agents include Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik and Wesley Matthews, but even $11 million may be under market value.
It’s not fair, you say. What else can be done?
Moving quickly to the summer of 2016, Bryant comes off the books and the Lakers could pursue a maximum-contract player — two if they don’t spend much money next summer. Kevin Durant is the potential leader of the 2016 class unless LeBron James opts out of his contract.
For the temperamental, the Lakers can always try to improve their hand soon with an in-season trade.
For the record, it won’t be easy. There just aren’t many pieces.
Bryant has a no-trade clause, is shooting only 38% and is not being considered for a trade by the Lakers. He’s too valuable at the ticket office, and in maintaining at least a passing interest in the team.
It gets bleak from there.
As per NBA rules, Carlos Boozer cannot be traded because he was acquired via the amnesty bidding process.
Jordan Hill can’t be dealt until Jan. 15 and has some veto power to block a trade because the second year of his contract is a team option. Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson can also block a trade because they signed one-year deals to return to their team.
The contracts of Kelly, Davis, Sacre and Ronnie Price are too small to bring back anybody of significance. The Lakers might have some explaining to do if they deal their future — Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson.
Young is probably staying because he is beloved by Lakers fans and makes $5 million, a relative bargain in an era where the average salary is $5.3 million.
Steve Nash’s $9.7-million expiring contract is available for anybody who wants to dump salary for a 40-year-old who will never play again. If traded, Nash will also receive a bonus that could reach an additional $1.2 million.
It pretty much leaves Jeremy Lin and his whopping $14.9-million salary as the Lakers’ main trading chip (because of one of the many complicated NBA rules, he counts as $8.4 million against a team’s books). He is averaging 11.8 points and 4.8 assists. Not exactly numbers that delight general managers and excite fan bases.
On the good side for the Lakers, they are quickly headed toward keeping the first-round pick they are supposed to give Phoenix for the Nash trade. That means a legitimate chance at Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.
They retain it if they hold a top-five spot after the draft lottery, an important distinction because Detroit lost its first-round pick last season when it fell from eighth to ninth in the lottery. Cleveland unexpectedly vaulted over the Pistons, whose pick was only top-eight protected and went to Charlotte for the Corey Maggette trade two years earlier.
In other words, the Lakers must finish among the NBA’s bottom two records to completely ensure themselves of keeping the top-five pick. Under draft guidelines, if you finish with the second-worst record, three teams at most can pass you on lottery night, and those chances are low.
In addition to likely keeping their own pick, the Lakers get Houston’s first-rounder next June as part of the Lin trade.
Internally, the Lakers aren’t panicking. They blame a lot of this season on injuries to Nash, Randle and even Kelly. They sometimes imagine what could have been had everybody stayed healthy, even though a mere playoff berth would have been a stretch.
Just the same, Coach Byron Scott recently stepped out of the Lakers’ day-to-day doldrums to peek into what was ahead.
“No. 1 thing, you’ve got to get players,” he said. “We’ve got a franchise with a great history and we feel that we can draw players here to Los Angeles that would love to play in this organization. Obviously, the process is ongoing right now and then when the season is over, we’ll start trying to take some bigger steps to achieve those goals.”
Between now and next summer, it’s mainly speculation. It might be the best the Lakers can offer right now.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.