How LA Lakers' Commitment to Kobe Bryant Impacts Pau Gasol and Steve Nash

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How LA Lakers' Commitment to Kobe Bryant Impacts Pau Gasol and Steve Nash
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Welcome to the future of Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers, where the whereabouts of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are unknown.

Extending the Black Mamba was issue No. 1 on Los Angeles' to-do list. Now that it's done, the Lakers must turn their attentions to the rest of roster. 

Put in this context, Kobe's extension was a great thing. Doesn't matter if you agree with the $48.5 million value the Lakers placed on him. Hammering out his pact allows them to shed some clarity on the future, which has become increasingly blurred by Robin Thicke's lines financial mystery. 

How much money would the Lakers have to spend in 2014? Would it be enough to sign a superstar? Two superstars?

Collective bargaining agreement-sage Larry Coon shed some light on Los Angeles' fiscal situation following Kobe's agreement, essentially saying they'll have enough dough to offer one max contract:

The salary cap next summer is projected to be $62.9 million. The Lakers will also have their own first round draft pick. Based on their current record, this pick would fall around #15, and would therefore count around $1.5 million against their cap.This would give them a total of about $37.66 million for six players. We need to add another six cap holds totaling $3,04 million, which brings the total to about $40,70 million.

With this team salary, the Lakers would have about $22.2 million in cap room next summer.

Dry your eyes, dreamers of Los Angeles. Two superstars was never a legitimate possibility. Kobe would've had to sign for under $6 million in 2013-14, an offer he would have chewed up and spit out.

Besides, $22-plus million is a nice chunk of change. The Lakers could sign Andris Biedrins twice under his current deal and still have some coin left over!

Cap flexibility isn't all dandelions and overpaid big men, though. General manager Mitch Kupchak must decide whom the Lakers are going to spend it on. Remember, Gasol is an unrestricted free agent this summer, too. And Nash—well, he's old. Broken. Making me frown.

Business as usual only explains half the situation. Kobe's contract was a necessary move for a franchise looking to sell tickets and remain relevant even if it's not winning. Now it's about winning; about building a contender.

About figuring out if Gasol and Nash are a part of those plans.

 

Pau Gasol

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Talented 7-footers are hard to find. They don't grow on trees and cannot be cloned over the weekend. Letting one go, even one who is rapidly approaching 34, isn't easy.

The Lakers are faced with this very dilemma come July. Re-signing Gasol is always an option, but it's unrealistic if they wish to peruse the superstar free-agent ranks.

To open that $22.2 million worth of cap space Coon talks about, the Lakers must renounce their rights to Gasol first; otherwise his cap hold will prohibit them from making a max offer. This also means the Lakers cannot take the wait-and-see approach. Gasol isn't a plan B they can keep on the back burner. A decision must be made.

Given all the hype potential free agents like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have generated, it stands to reason that the Lakers would renounce Gasol and chase either of them. But there's no guarantee 'Melo or LeBron agree to play in Los Angeles. Their incumbent team can offer longer deals worth more money, and per USA Today's Sam AmickAnthony has already expressed doubt that an aging Kobe will be enough to reel in bigger names moving forward.

"I mean you'll have to see," Anthony said of Kobe being able to bring stars to Hollywood. "It's hard to gauge at this point, not until he comes back and figures some things out. So I don't know."

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This is coming from Anthony, who is more likely to spurn the currently listless New York Knicks than LeBron is the dynasty-seeking Miami Heat. If Los Angeles' best option in free agency is questioning the team's setup, what's LeBron thinking?

Also, what else will Los Angeles do to ensure it can afford 'Melo himself? Anthony is eligible to earn around $22.5 million in the first year of his next deal, meaning the Lakers would have to do some structural finagling. 

All of this is doable, but why should the Lakers bid farewell to Gasol, and someone else, for a star they're not assured they'll sign?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
Will Gasol take a pay cut to say with Kobe?

If you're losing Gasol, you'd like to know you're getting something in return. For your trouble. For his departure. 

Realistically, the Lakers will know. They'll have a pulse on where Anthony's at. Public displays of affection for the Knicks or some late-night pillow talk via the telephone with Kobe should give them a general idea.

Ideally, the Lakers would re-sign Gasol and then chase 'Melo (or LeBron). But that entails Gasol taking a massive pay cut. Though he's indicated he'll make some financial sacrifice, he's not re-signing at the veteran's minimum. No way.

That's it, then. The Lakers are sunk. Presumably, they want another superstar next to Kobe. A luminary in his prime. If not 'Melo or LeBron in 2014, then Kevin Love or someone else in 2015. Gasol must go.

Well, maybe not...

 

Steve Nash

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Poor, Nash. Really, his current situation sucks.

Nerve damage in his back has limited him to six games this season. This comes after he played just 50 in 2012-13. His present pain had become so extreme, that Peter Vecsey reported Nash was contemplating retirement:

Nash has since shot down such talk.

"No, not at all," Nash said, via the Los Angeles Times' Ben Bolch. "I don't know where that came from."

While Nash isn't considering retirement, merely discussing it should be unsettling. Pushing 40, he doesn't have much basketball left. Through no fault of his own, he isn't the player Los Angeles traded for. These things happen. Age happens. Nothing you can do. 

Actually, there's something the Lakers can do.

They owe Nash a little over $9.7 million next season, a contract they can seek to distance themselves from. Using the stretch provision, they could spread that amount over the next couple years, decreasing their cap commitments by a few million dollars. Or, they can seek to trade him. 

Moving him won't be incredibly easy, but expiring deals are always valuable trade chips. There will be some team out there willing to absorb his contract. A tanker perhaps. Or maybe the Toronto Raptors, who aggressively went after Nash in 2012.

Trading him this season shouldn't be out of the question, either. If a team is looking to get "worse" for better draft positioning, it can take on Nash's contract in exchange for an expiring one. Interested teams would be taking a gamble, but that's what tanking is all about. 

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Nash's days in LA could be numbered.

Let's be mindful of who we're talking about, too. This is Steve Nash, a future Hall of Famer. If he's even close to healthy, he provides preeminent playmaking and deadly spot-up shooting.

Wiping his contract from their ledger may be of more interest to the Lakers than his shooting and playmaking abilities, though. That $9.7 million is money they could dangle in front of Gasol. Should he agree to a contract of a similar amount, the Lakers will have retained him while also maintaining enough flexibility to offer a max contract.

Look at what happens when we remove Nash's salary from the books and insert Gasol at the same amount:

Lakers Potential Salary Picture for 2014-15
Player Salary
Kobe Bryant $23,500,000
Pau Gasol $9,701,000
Robert Sacre $915,243
Nick Young* $1,227,985 (Player Option)
Elias Harris* $816, 482 (Non-Guaranteed)
Ryan Kelly* $1,016,482 (Qualifying Offer)
2014 Draft Pick $1,500,000
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
Minimum Cap Hold $507,336
All-inclusive Total $40,197,310
Projected Salary Cap $62,900,000

Salary info from Grantland, Hoopworld and Larry Coon.

Told ya. This is all predicated on Gasol likely foregoing larger offers and taking more than a 50 percent slash in salary, but still, told ya.

A core of Kobe, Gasol and another star ('Melo maybe?) makes for a contender. Better than one built around Kobe, Gasol and Nash could anyway.

 

Still a Blurry Road Ahead

In a vacuum, Kobe's extension essentially puts both Nash and Gasol at risk.

The dream of signing one star free agent still alive, the Lakers could relinquish their rights to Gasol. Or they could attempt to move Nash in hopes of keeping Gasol and chasing another star.

Visions of signing both LeBron and 'Melo dead, however, the Lakers could also look to the trade market for improvements. Perhaps they attempt to parlay Gasol's expiring pact into a star on a long-term deal. That seems unlikely, given Los Angeles' obvious interest in financial pliability, but with Kobe's deal done it's possible.

Standing pat is another option. The Lakers could hold on to Nash, re-sign Gasol at a reasonable discount and look to surround each of them, plus Kobe, with a moderately priced role player. Like a more refined version of their current docket, if you will.

Which player is more likely to be with the Lakers next season?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Expect either of two scenarios to emerge as "favorites." Trying to move Nash is something I believe the Lakers will consider. They have to. Potential that comes with housing Kobe, Gasol and another star is simply too great to squander.

Look for the Lakers to play it safe if that doesn't become an option. They would need a clear-cut promise from 'Melo or LeBron to part ties with Gasol. Kobe's extension has given them options, it hasn't made them reckless.

"I'm very fortunate to be with an organization that understands how to take care of its players, and put a great team out on the floor," Kobe told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. "They've figured out how to do both.

All that's left for them to do is figure out what's next.

 

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