Armed with loads of salary cap space, one of the premier markets and richest championship histories in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers will undoubtedly be major players when free agency starts July 1 as they hope to dig out of the worst season in franchise history. The Lakers owe only $37 million in salaries next season, giving them nearly $45 million in space to work with before hitting the league’s luxury tax threshold.
Recent reports indicate L.A. fully intends to use that considerable amount of space on big-name stars to pair with Kobe Bryant and a young batch of budding stars.
The Lakers could potentially capitalize on the murky situation between the Miami Heat and All-Star shooting guard Dwyane Wade. According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, while many executives around the league believe Wade is “contract saber rattling,” he and the Lakers share a “mutual interest.”
Mannix added on Twitter:
Hard to see LA offering Wade a better chance to win than Miami, especially in the West. But it is LA, and they do have money to burn.
â€” Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) June 21, 2015
Wade holds a $16.1 million option for next season, and could turn it down to hit the open market. He and Miami reportedly disagree on how much he should be paid, with the 33-year-old demanding more after he took less to bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami back in 2010. That move led to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals and two titles.
However, given his age and injury history, the Heat prefer that Wade opt-in to the final year of his current deal and the two sides will then iron out a new contract in 2016. The Heat also need the flexibility Wade’s present contract provides, with guard Goran Dragic expected to hit free agency and forward Luol Deng also potentially turning down his $10.2 million option.
Though the Lakers do have the requisite space to sign Wade, they would likely offer him more of a front-loaded, short-term contract to keep their books relatively clean. Bryant’s contract is up at the end of next season, and the Lakers have only $5 million in player salaries in the two subsequent years.
The desire for Wade certainly makes sense, with the possibility of Bryant and him dominating the Western Conference immediately. Wade's wife is Hollywood actress Gabrielle Union, who graduated from UCLA.
Meanwhile, Dragic could instead be more of a long-term option for the Lakers. ESPN reports the 29-year-old Slovenian intends to become a free agent even though Miami is the only team allowed to offer him a five-year deal. The Heat plan to give Dragic $80 million over five years, but he could command a maximum of $100 million over the same span.
Yet the Lakers, and the New York Knicks, can entice Dragic with as much as $85 million over four years.
Dragic said several times after the Heat acquired him and nearly made the postseason that he would like to come back to Miami, and team president Pat Riley went so far as to suggest his job would be on the line if Dragic bolts, according to ESPN.
However, in February Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News reported that a source said that Dragic “loves the opportunity” of joining the Lakers, and considers the Lakers a “perfect fit” when he becomes a free agent.
The Lakers could have one of the deeper and more talented backcourts in the league next season with any combination of Wade, Bryant and Dragic, and the development of point guard Jordan Clarkson.