Luol Deng hasn’t played for the Lakers since Oct. 19, 2017, but for the next several weeks, he is perhaps the single most important player to their offseason plans. The Lakers signed Deng to a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016. In 2018, they used the stretch provision to waive that contract and spread the remaining cap hit over several years. The Lakers still owe Deng $10 million, which is split into $5 million increments over the next two seasons and is guaranteed to be paid to Deng no matter what, but according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Lakers have requested a career-ending injury application in the hopes of clearing that money off of their cap sheet.
Why does that matter? There are two major reasons, one for each of the next two offseasons:
- If the Lakers want to use the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception on a free agent this offseason, they would be hard-capped at the luxury tax apron, which was $138.9 million last season. That exception would allow the Lakers to sign a starting-caliber player in free agency. Last season, the first-year salary of that exception was just under $9.3 million, whereas the Taxpayer equivalent was only around $5.7 million. Assuming a new max contract for Anthony Davis and a frozen cap, the Lakers would enter the offseason with around $102.1 million committed (including their first-round pick). That is almost $37 million below the potential hard cap, money that vanishes quickly with a Mid-Level Player and a new contract for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Clearing $5 million would allow the Lakers far more flexibility in finishing off its roster around those two signings.
- The Lakers intentionally signed players to short-term contracts in 2019 with the intention of keeping their cap clean for 2021 and a potential run at Giannis Antetokounmpo. Given the pandemic’s impact on that cap, it would have been nearly impossible for the Lakers to get to true max space in 2021 with Deng on the books. LeBron James has a $39.2 million player option, Anthony Davis, on the second year of a max contract, would be at around $35.3 million, and Deng is still stuck on the books at $5 million. That’s $79.5 million for three players, only two of which actually contribute. Throw in around $10 million on Incomplete Roster Charges, and the cap would need to come in at around $125 million for the Lakers to have any chance at true max space, and that’s with literally every other player off of the books (which won’t happen either). If Deng is cleared, though, there might be a more feasible scenario in which James, Davis and Antetokounmpo (or another potential third star) all leave a bit of money on the table. It’s not likely, but it’s worth considering.
So those are the stakes here. The more pertinent question is, how likely is it that the Lakers actually succeed in getting this career-ending injury waiver? The answer is… not very, but it’s possible.
On paper, the Lakers