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If the Lakers want to make a move for LeBron, they've a lot work to do

The Lakers are unlikely to create enough cap space.

Questions still remain over where James will play next year.
Questions still remain over where James will play next year.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE LOS ANGELES Lakers have been fairly open about their plans to preserve cap space for this coming offseason to attract some big stars.

Paul George has been the featured name as a potential free agent signing for the Lakers, but rumours have also circulated that LeBron James could leave the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer and explore other teams like the Lakers.

While the Lakers were always going to be challenged to open up enough cap space for two max salaries, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski there may be a new roadblock.

The Lakers’ path to clearing cap space always involved moving Luol Deng and the $36 million remaining on his contract after this season. However, according to Wojnarowski, the Lakers have given up on trying to trade Deng this season because other teams are demanding assets in return to take on Deng’s contract.

Wojnarowski said the Lakers will “inevitably” use the waive-and-stretch provision on Deng, meaning the remainder of his deal will stay on their cap but at a lower cost spread out over several years.

According to Wojnarowski, it’s possible that Deng could grow so unhappy in L.A. as to accept a buyout and forfeit some of the money remaining on his deal, but it’s unlikely.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics I now looks unlikely the Lakers can unload Deng. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Wojnarowski also reported that the Lakers are looking to trade Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. before the season is over. Clarkson has about $25 million remaining on his deal after the year is over and Nance is still on his rookie deal, set to make $2.2 million next season. That, too, could create complications, as the Lakers will need to make sure that any contract they take back expires at the end of the season.

If the Lakers trade Clarkson and don’t take money back in a trade and then stretch Deng on 1 July, leaving a cap hit of about $7.3 million, they would have around $70 million in cap space, assuming a $100 million salary cap.

And that would assume the Lakers don’t add any salary in the draft, either. Even then, with max salaries starting at about $35.7 million, as Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus projected in August, the Lakers might still have to make moves to fit two max players.

There have always been some doubts about whether the Lakers could truly sign two max players this offseason. To do so, they would have to shed salary cap space almost perfectly, avoid the draft, and scrap a good deal of depth on the team.

And if they do those things, is a team of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and several minimum-level players very attractive to the likes of James?

With the trade deadline approaching, the Lakers will be a team worth monitoring to see how they start lining up the pieces to try to set up a splashy summer.

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