In 1962, President Kennedy announced the intent of the United States to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Before he could see his dream realized, he died. Despite his assassination, setbacks, fires, deaths, and technological hurdles, Kennedy’s dream became a reality.[ref]Unless you’re a complete idiot and you believe conspiracy theories.[/ref]
The Los Angeles Lakers are not NASA. Yes, they set out to do something seemingly impossible[ref]Fire a coach, install a new offense, deny a coach with 11 championships a job, assemble a cast of guys with too many years on their knees, lose three key players for extended periods of time to injuries, and then win a championship.[/ref]: assemble a new team, and then see their leader die before the goal could be reached – but that’s where the analogies end. Dr. Jerry Buss was a prolific man, but he wasn’t like Kennedy in the sense that he wasn’t built on prohibition money. Dr. Buss was his team, and that was his only job. Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban made their billions before buying a team, and are the types of owners who can afford to spend money like it’s water. Jerry Jones is a Texas oil tycoon. Mark Cuban is a… well… bedazzled ugly shirt model? I have no idea what Mark Cuban does, but I just assume he models shirts for bad VH1 reality shows. Dr. Jerry Buss was a doctor, who then invested his money into a basketball team.
Money built the current Lakers squad for a one-year run under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement rules. At the beginning of the year, any Lakers fan could tell you how Los Angeles would steamroll the Western Conference, en route to showing LeBron James and the Miami Heat how a dynasty really works. We all really just wanted to see King James and The Black Mamba face off, to show everyone who the best player of our generation is, and Kobe could prove just how much more “clutch” he is than LeBron. I mean, c’mon, right? Steve Nash is basically the second coming of John Stockton[ref]Go home, you’re drunk.[/ref], Dwight Howard is the best center since Shaq[ref]Or perhaps just a slightly better version of Tyson Chandler.[/ref], and there is no stopping Kobe Bryant[ref]…from taking ill-advised fall-away 19-foot jump shots when he has open teammates.[/ref]. Pau Gasol is a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki[ref]I mean, really poor. The type of poor where you also happen to be sucking dick in bus stations to satisfy your crystal meth addiction.[/ref]!
It was supposed to be so easy. Of course, no one really considered how debilitating back surgery really was for Howard. His subsequent conditioning program was delayed, and he never really got into game shape, nor did he get to integrate himself into the new offense. People tend to forget Nash has never excelled on defense, a fact only exacerbated by age. He also missed nearly the entire first third of the season. Bryant has been playing for 16 seasons, plus playoff runs, and the occasional Olympic foray – so his knees are probably totally cool, right? Gasol is low-mileage compared to his peers, but who could predict he’d be coming off the bench, and then see a foot injury? You know what else would be a comical basketball solution? Fire the coach who is already playing a fast, motion-based offense, and hire a new coach with an even faster offense with more motion, and see if all these injury-plagued old dudes can keep up. Ready? Yeah, neither was the Lakers’ roster.
This experiment is over. After watching Los Angeles disappear tonight somewhere behind Russell Westbrook‘s 37 points, it is abundantly clear Los Angeles shouldn’t keep this roster beyond the 2012-13 season. Sure, they’re only one game below .500, and they could sneak into the playoffs with the 8-seed before being thoroughly trounced by Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or even their little brother, the Clippers.[ref]Close your eyes and imagine the Clippers sweeping the Lakers in four games, followed by the ghost of Jerry Buss strangling Mitch Kupchak in a luxury suite.[/ref]
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) February 24, 2013
Money is a huge reason this team shouldn’t happen again, and it’s the reason Bryant felt compelled to respond to Cuban’s “amnesty” comment after dropping 38 on the hapless Mavs.
Basketball finances are nearly impossible to understand, and actually doing the calculations under the new CBA is sort of like doing Chinese trigonometry underwater with your hands tied behind your back. Additionally, understanding why keeping together this under-performing team is a bad idea means we all need to get really good at fractions. My fourth grade teacher Mrs. Cauble told me that fractions would be important, and if I was an NBA General Manager, she’d totally be right. [ref]But I’m not a General Manager. I’m a low-level basketball blogger with a PBR obsession, so English and P.E. were much more important. Oh, and Health too, because maintaining a healthy liver is somewhat important.[/ref] (P.S. I learned a lot about the CBA from Larry Coon, and you can too, if you love reading.)
2012-13 is the last season of dollar-to-dollar luxury tax penalties. In rough terms, for every dollar you spend above the salary cap, you pay a dollar to the luxury tax. That’s pretty simple to understand. For the 2013-14 season, everything changes, and we start playing the game of fractions.
$1-$4.99M; $1.50:$1 Ratio penalty
$5.0M-$9.99M; $1.75:$1 Ratio penalty
$10.0M-$14.99M; $2.50:$1 Ratio penalty
$15.0M-$19.99M; $3.25:$1 Ratio penalty
For every $5 million you go over $20 million, you tack on another 50 cents to the ratio to $1, as established with the last penalty. As an addendum, there is a “repeat offender” clause built in, also meant to discourage teams from going over the cap limit for multiple seasons. The repeater rates are built upon the same increments, but carry penalties of $2.50, $2.75, $3.50, $4.25, and $4.75, as defined by the last table. Repeat offenders are triggered on the third year of the offense.
Before I break down what these dollar figures mean, it’s important to remember the ace in the hole: Time Warner. The Lakers have a TV deal with Time Warner Cable paying them just a touch over $5 billion over the next 25 years. That represents a $120-million payment in 2012-13, and just a hair above $130 million in 2013-14. You can only get a TV deal like that in Los Angeles and New York, and your team has to be called either “The Lakers” or “The Knicks.” (No, you can’t even get a deal like that in Boston, championships and Bill Simmons be damned.)
For the 2013-14 season, Los Angeles has $79.59 million committed to eight players. The projected salary cap is probably going to land somewhere in the neighborhood of $72M. Without Howard, the Lakers are already over the cap by $7.6 million, which means they’ll be paying $7.5 million for the first $4.99 million they went through, plus $4.55 million for the second $2.6 million increment, totaling $12.05 million – already.
Let’s just make that abundantly clear: The Lakers are already $12.05 million in the penalty for 2013-14, and that’s without contracts for Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark[ref]If the Lakers don’t re-sign Clark next year, I’ll be shocked.[/ref], Devin “V$VP” Ebanks, Darrius Morris, Robert Sacre, or Darius Johnson-Odom under contract for 2013-14, and they’ll need a bench.
Just for the purposes of mathematics, let’s assume the Lakers want to field a full basketball team, and they want to do it for the same numbers they did in 2012-13 [ref]Jamison is getting paid roughly 1/23rd of what Kobe Bryant will be getting paid in 2013-14, so it’s not like they’re really breaking the bank with their bench.[/ref]. Assuming they re-sign the same (barely D-League) bench, that’s another $5.24 million. Mitch Kupchak then separates the clouds, and speaks down with the voice of God, “Dwight, I’m giving you more than $120 million over six years. In 2013-14, you’ll make $20.6 million. You are overrated, and I don’t care.” Instantly, the Lakers have added an insane financial burden. Ready for the math? Here we go…
$7.5 million in the penalty for everyone already on the roster, plus another $5.24 million so Los Angeles has a full bench of guys to hang out with V$VP Ebanks, because he’s basically the coolest dude on Twitter. Then, $20.6 million for Howard. HOLY SHIT THAT’S $33.34 MILLION DOLLARS!
Ready for the pain?
Do you like being spanked?
Penalty #1: $1-$4.99M @ $1.50:$1 Ratio penalty = $7.5M
Penalty #2: $5.0M-$9.99M @ $1.75:$1 Ratio penalty = $8.75M
Penalty #3: $10.0M-$14.99M @ $2.50:$1 Ratio penalty = $12.5M
Penalty #4: $15.0M-$19.99M @ $3.25:$1 Ratio penalty = $16.25M
Penalty #5: $25.0M-$24.99M @ $3.75:$1 Ratio penalty = $18.75M
Penalty #6: $25.0M-$29.99M @ $4.25:$1 Ratio penalty = $21.25M
Penalty #7 (Partial $3.34M): $30.0M-$34.99M @ $4.75:$1 Ratio penalty = $15.87
The total luxury tax penalty is $100,885,000. That’s not the total budget, that’s just what Los Angeles would have to pay the NBA for being so ratchet and just getting buckwild with their Quickbooks software. The staggering numbers just keep coming, so as they say on late night television: “But wait, there’s more!” We need to package that all together and see what the Lakers are getting!
Total Payroll: $103,840,000
Luxury Tax: $100,885,000
There are many ways to field a basketball team capable of playing just below .500, and spending $204 million is probably the most ill-advised way to do so.
Right now, the Los Angeles Lakers need to do something unthinkable. They need to use their one-time amnesty clause on the face of their franchise. This day was coming, and there was nothing that could be done about it, because Kobe simply isn’t worth paying $30.45 million next season. Sorry Kobe, but Kupchak is going to have to “Amnesty THAT” if Howard decides to accept a contract from Los Angeles.
Over the offseason, this is how things will play out…
1. Kupchack “tests the waters” to see if anyone would be willing to pick up part of Kobe’s contract number via the Amnesty agreement. He sees that many teams would love Bryant. Kupchack then offers Howard a max contract. With Bryant gone, Kupchak would only be paying a $5.1 million luxury tax – a difference of $95 million.
2a. Howard declines, and Bryant stays in Los Angeles. (Highly unlikely Howard declines.)
2b. Howard accepts, and Bryant is placed on waivers. Conventional wisdom suggests Kobe is worth roughly a $20 million bid by most teams, leaving Los Angeles on the hook for only $10 million.
3a. Howard signs with the Atlanta Hawks to play alongside Chris Paul, who was also given a max contract by Atlanta. (Atlanta has only $18 million of payroll spoken for in 2013-14, giving them $54 million to work with. That’s $4 million more than what Miami had to work with when they signed “The Big Three”.) Atlanta still has $12 million remaining to sign role players. With a lineup of Howard, Horford and Paul, with Lou Williams shooting from the wing, the Hawks are declared a “threat” to Miami for the 2013-14 season. Danny Ferry looks like a genius, and Lakers fans declare Howard to be a traitor.
3b. Assuming Bryant is conservatively worth a $20 million bid, only a small handful of teams are in the running for his services…
Houston could pull it off with a front loaded first year, plus a bonus, and a small extension. However, Bryant and Harden might see some chemistry issues. That makes Houston unlikely.
Atlanta is interesting, just because of the cap room, and the amount of talent they could put around Bryant. With $54 million to spend, they could grab Bryant, Paul and Millsap, while still keeping Horford. With Lou Williams returning, it’s a small lineup that could run with Miami.
Charlotte. Hehe. Oh man, wouldn’t that be funny? Of course, they don’t really need Kobe, but damnit, Michael Jordan is the worst GM in basketball, so what’s going to stop him from picking up a player he really doesn’t need?
Utah will have to see if they can keep Jefferson, and see if Bryant will come to town with that pairing, although it’s highly unlikely, since they wouldn’t be able to match offers of teams with more money, once they re-sign some of their existing players.
San Antonio is actually highly likely, because Ginobili and Jackson will also be free agents over the summer, and Kobe Bryant wants to go out as a champion. The prospect of playing alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and with Gregg Popovich as a coach means Kobe can potentially walk away from basketball with a ring.
New Orleans will have the money, but they’ll probably also be outbid by people with more money, and they need to re-sign an entire bench as well. It’s an extremely long shot. But who doesn’t want to be a Pelican, am I right?[ref]Worst. Name. Ever.[/ref]
Of all the possible outcomes, what do I think happens? This involves thinking beyond 2013-14, to the 2014-15 season when other pieces are in motion. I believe Kupchak will amnesty Bryant in order to keep Howard for the long haul. Bryant is an older player, and it doesn’t make sense to keep him in Los Angeles, unless of course Phil Jackson is coming back to town. [ref]In which case I don’t know anything anymore, because why in the actual fuck would you ever hire D’Antoni in the first place, and then have to pay his contract, Mike Brown’s contract, and the insane figure you have to pay Phil Jackson?![/ref]
In 2014-15, Kupchak makes max offers to both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, to play alongside Dwight Howard and Steve Nash[ref]…who will be 42 years old when the playoffs roll around, so it’s safe to say he’s coming off the bench. It’s much more likely Nash gets traded away next year for some expiring contracts.[/ref]
Kobe Bryant lands in either San Antonio or Atlanta for one or two seasons. It’s more likely he’ll stick around in San Antonio, because Popovich knows how to make the most of old, fundamentally sound players – such as Tim Duncan. C’mon, even Jordan played for another team. No big deal, Kobe. Everyone does it when all they have left is a fallback jump shot.
In the end, Kupchak gets declined by Wade and James, but wins when Kyrie Irving becomes a free agent in 2015-16 and signs with Los Angeles to become the “next great Laker.” Thousands in Cleveland commit suicide when they realize they’ll never be able to keep a superstar in their city, because… well… it’s Cleveland.