Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks

It’s becoming more and more obvious that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are considering getting back together this summer. Making that happen is a completely other matter.

James was contacted by Irving on Monday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, to see if he’d be interested in joining the Dallas Mavericks. Jovan Buha of The Athletic spoke to a Los Angeles Lakers source, who described it as “unrealistic,” while other sources claimed that the Lakers “aren’t interested in what Dallas could offer in a trade.”

Irving will become a free agent in July, while James is entering the first year of a two-year, $97.1 million agreement he signed with the Lakers last August. Irving could join James in Los Angeles much more easily.Angeles than the opposite, but it still doesn’t seem very plausible.

Perhaps part of the responsibility for that should go on the collective bargaining agreement for the NBA.

Max Christie ($1.7 million), LeBron James ($46.9 million), and Anthony Davis ($40.6 million) are the only three players the Lakers have signed guaranteed deals with for the 2023–24 season. They also have a $16.5 million team option on Beasley, but just $300,000 of Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million contract and $4.7 million of Jarred Vanderilt’s $4.7 million salary are guaranteed until June 29 and June 30, respectively.

Between James, Davis, Vanderbilt and Christie, the Lakers already have $89.5 million on their books against a projected $134 million salary cap. Even without factoring in anyone else, they don’t have enough cap space to sign Irving to his $46.9 million max salary as a free agent. He’d have to take far less than his max to sign with the Lakers outright.

A sign-and-trade is the far more likely path for Irving to land in L.A., but the CBA complicates that. Teams above the first salary-cap apron (projected to be around $169 million next season) cannot receive players via sign-and-trade, which means the Lakers would have to keep their payroll below that threshold through June 2024 if they acquired Irving that way.

Even if the Lakers talked Irving into taking less than his max in a sign-and-trade—let’s say $35 million, just as an example—acquiring him would force them into making difficult decisions across the rest of their roster. In that scenario, they’d already have $124.5 million committed to James, Davis, Irving and Christie, giving them around $44.4 million to spend on 11 guys.

That may wind up costing them at least one of Austin Reaves or Rui Hachimura, both of whom are poised to become restricted free agents this summer.

Hachimura’s future excursion into free agency is very uncomplicated. As a former first-round choice coming off his rookie-scale deal, he’s entitled to negotiate a four-year contract with any other team or a five-year contract with the Lakers with a starting salary up to 25% of the salary cap ($33.5 million). If Hachimura signs an offer sheet with another team, the Lakers will have the ability to match it.

Also slated to become a restricted free agent is Reaves, although his situation is a little more complex. The Lakers do not possess all of Bird’s rights because he has only two years of NBA experience. Instead, they are able to sign him to a contract with a beginning salary that is larger than 105% of the expected average wage from the previous season or 175% of his present salary ($1.6 million), whichever is higher, according to his Early Bird rights.

The Lakers could offer Reaves a four-year contract starting at $11.3 million with annual raises of 8% based on the estimated average salary for the 2022–23 season, which was approximately $10.8 million. That would have a maximum value of $50.8 million, which is unlikely to be sufficient to retain him in Los Angeles beyond

During their run to the Western Conference Finals, he had averages of 16.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game.

The Lakers could re-sign Reaves using their $12.2 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception, but they would only be able to offer him 5% yearly increases. They could only extend that offer for four years and about $52.5 million, which isn’t much more than they can do with his Early Bird rights.

The CBA limits how much other teams can offer Reaves as well. He’s subject to the Gilbert Arenas provision, which means regardless of whether he joins with the Lakers or another club, he’s limited to no more than the non-taxpayer MLE in the first year of his new contract and a 5% rise on that in the second year. He can then receive up to his max salary in his third year ($36.85 million) and a 4.5% raise on that in the final year.

All together, another team can offer him a four-year, $100.4 million contract. The Lakers, however, are permitted to match any offer sheet the player receives, and they reportedly intend to do so.

“League sources keep stating that L.A. is committedto keep Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura in free agency,” renowned NBA source Marc Stein wrote in late May. “Based on what I know, there is honestly no possibility that Reaves won’t be a Laker next season.”

It wouldn’t be shocking if Reaves and Hachimura both received contract offers this summer with yearly average values above $15 million. Re-signing just Reaves and Hachimura, even if the Lakers are okay with dismissing Beasley and Bamba and letting Russell go, may bring them perilously near to the first apron.

To allow themselves enough wiggle space to sign Irving and re-sign Reaves, the Lakers may elect to waive Beasley and Bamba as well as Russell, Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, and Dennis Schroder’s free agency rights. Since Reaves’ salary for the upcoming season is capped at $12.2 million, the Lakers still have the non-taxpayer MLE and the No. 17 selection to bolster their squad beyond veteran minimum deals. Though that

would significantly increase their top-heavyness from what it was during the final few months of the 2022–23 season.

It’s reasonable to question if that’s the ideal approach to construct around James and Davis, who have both missed a significant amount of time in recent seasons. Additionally, throughout the previous six seasons, Irving has missed at least 15 games, several of which weren’t due to injury. Irving frequently causes as much trouble off the court as he does on it, whether it is by refusing to receive the Covid-19 vaccination in 2021–22 or by being suspended by the team for sharing an anti–Semitic video online.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN recently advised against questioning the

There is a chance that Irving and LeBron may reunite in Los Angeles, so nobody should completely rule it out. To complete their rotation, the Lakers could be much better suited re-signing Reaves and Hachimura while also trying to re-sign Russell or sign him and deal him to another team.

The benefits of avoiding the hard cap and having greater freedom to make adjustments before the trade deadline of the next year may outweigh the star power of a James-Davis-Irving triad.

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