Breaking Down Financial Details of Possible LeBron James to Lakers Heist in 2014

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Breaking Down Financial Details of Possible LeBron James to Lakers Heist in 2014
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The Los Angeles Lakers always seem to get what they want, and courtesy of some crafty financial maneuvering, such a reality will continue to hold true.

Which is why it's so frightening that what the Lakers reportedly want next, after snagging Dwight Howard and Steve Nash this past summer, is to sign LeBron James in the summer of 2014.

According to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, Los Angeles has purposely positioned itself for a free-agency spending spree the same year James can opt out of his current contract with Miami:

With their latest coups -- the stunning Steve Nash sign-and-trade and a victory in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes -- just now coming together for the first time, could the Lakers already be plotting out the next one?

Opposing executives think so. As teams continue their long-range planning and work up opposition strategies, the Lakers remain just as much a threat in the transaction game as they are on the court.

Several teams' executives have told ESPN.com they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014, when the Miami Heat star can choose to become a free agent.

Now, obviously, plenty has to go right for such an aspiration to be actualized. For one, James has to want to leave the Heat. Is that likely?

It's impossible to predict how likely it is, yet given the state of the team's roster by that time, and the age of his buddy Dwyane Wade—who will be 32—it remains a possibility.

But the Lakers still have to be able to sign him, right? And that's going to take plenty of cap space, correct? So, for a team like Los Angeles, which has more than $100 million on the books for 2012-13, that's simply not possible, yes?

Except that it is.

LeBron has already beat the Lakers, so why not join them?

Despite the fact that the Lakers will be paying a small fortune in luxury tax bills for the next two years, their financial slate will be wiped almost clean by 2014, Windhorst himself acknowledges:

But look a little further, to that 2014-15 season, and you'll see something else: The Lakers' projected payroll is almost completely clear. Only Nash is signed for that season, at $9.7 million, though the Lakers will also be paying about $20 million to Howard if they can re-sign him this coming summer.

In July 2014, Bryant's $30.4 million, Pau Gasol's $19.2 million, Metta World Peace's $7.7 million, Steve Blake's $4 million and Jordan Hill's $3.5 million will come off the books. There likely won't even be any first-round draft picks filling up the cap, either, as the Lakers have already traded their 2013 first-round pick to Phoenix in the Nash deal.

As of right now, the only player on Los Angeles' financial docket heading into the 2014-15 campaign is Steve Nash, who is set earn $9.7 million. Assuming the league's salary cap stays at or around $58 million, that leaves the Lakers with $48.3 million to burn through.

How is that possible? How are the Lakers set to shed more than $90 million in payroll over the next two years.

That's the beauty of expiring contracts. After this season, Dwight Howard ($19.3 million), Jodie Meeks ($1.4 million), Antawn Jamison ($1.4 million), Earl Clark ($1.3 million), Devin Ebanks ($1.1 million), Darius Morris ($937,195) and Andrew Goudelock ($762,195) all become unrestricted free agents and therefore, no longer count against the team's cap.

Then, immediately following the 2013-14 crusade, Kobe Bryant ($30.4 million), Pau Gasol ($19.2 million), Metta World Peace ($7.7 million), Steve Blake's ($4 million) and Jordan Hill ($3.5 million) all become restricted free agents. Which means that summer alone, Los Angeles has $64.8 million coming off the books.

Assuming Los Angeles remains intent on signing prospective free agents between now and then that gives the organization a total savings of about $91.1 million.

Wow.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Lakers still have enough cap for James even after re-signing Howard.

That said, just because the Lakers can shed that much payroll, doesn't mean they will. After all, they didn't acquire Howard to be merely a rental did they?

Of course not.

They're going to re-sign him at the end of the season to a fat, five-year deal worth in the ballpark of $108 million. So, just like that, another $20 million in 2014 is accounted for.

Add Howard's inevitable salary to the $9.7 million Nash will cost, and the Lakers now have $29.7 million committed to two players heading into 2014, still $28.3 million below the expected cap.

Which is more than enough to ink LeBron should he be available.

James will be entering his 12th NBA season by that point, which means he will be eligible to receive a starting salary of about $19.2 million annually.

Now, if we add that to Los Angeles' current total of $29.7 million, it increases the team's financial commitments to $48.9 million, still well below the cap of $58 million.

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So, not only will the Lakers have enough money to sign James, but they'll have roughly $9.1 million left over to spend. And from there they could craft a sales pitch that would show Bryant why he should forgo retirement to make less money, make Gasol privy to the benefits of an $18 million pay cut and perhaps even explain to Carmelo Anthony the benefits of becoming an underpaid sixth-man.

But I digress.

Though Los Angeles is currently anything but financially flexible, the contracts that are now overwhelmingly confining, are the same ones that will essentially give the franchise all the cash-related freedom a team needs.

Simply put, there is no question that the Lakers will have the future means necessary to dress James in purple and gold.

All this situation now calls for is LeBron's endorsement.

 

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