The Los Angeles Lakers are shoring up their defending championship run by adding a big man with championship experience whose career started with the purple and gold.
The Lakers are finalizing a two-year deal with center Marc Gasol, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe.
The free-agent signing, which would pry Gasol away from several other interested contenders by offering a longer deal, requires some maneuvering on the part of Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka to manage the salary cap.
L.A. is trading center JaVale McGee and a future second-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers to help make room for Gasol, a source told Wojnarowski. Cleveland is sending Jordan Bell and Alfonzo McKinnie to the Lakers in the deal, sources said.
Gasol will be signing for the equivalent of the veteran’s minimum salary for a player with 10-plus years of service in the league of $2.56 million per year, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. However, because Gasol will be signing a two-year deal, L.A. will not receive the typical cap relief that comes from signing a player to the veteran’s minimum.
Normally, a veteran’s minimum one-year contract counts as only $1,620,564 against the cap, with the league footing the rest of the bill. It is a mechanism that allows cap-strapped contenders to continue to field competitive rosters year after year. High-profile teams signing veteran players, rather than cheaper, young, unproven talent, also benefits the league by keeping players in the NBA that the league has already invested in marketing to develop familiarity with its fans.
Because L.A. is signing Gasol to a two-year deal, however, the contract is ineligible from the approximate $1 million in cap relief from the league each season.
Both McKinnie ($1.8 million) and Bell ($1.8 million) are on non-guaranteed contracts for 2020-21, according to Marks. In order to make the money between them and McGee — who recently opted into his $4.2 million contract for next season — match under the league’s trade guidelines, L.A. will have to guarantee part of their contracts.
The Lakers will guarantee $580,000 of Bell’s salary, waive him and use the stretch provision to space the money owed to him over the next three years, league sources told Marks.
McKinnie’s contract has been fully guaranteed and he will begin the season on the Lakers’ roster, according to Marks.
Adding Gasol and McKinnie, while parting with McGee, will give L.A. 10 players under contract, and when Anthony Davis signs his extension to stay with the team, as expected, that will bring the roster to 11. That will leave the Lakers with only enough cap space to sign three more players to one-year, veteran’s minimum contracts for 2020-21.
In Gasol, L.A. brings in a former All-Star to fill the void in the middle created by the departures of McGee and Dwight Howard, who signed with the Philadelphia 76ers as a free agent. Even though Davis is more than capable at center and played the position plenty during the Lakers’ postseason run, sources told ESPN that it remains a priority for L.A.’s front office to fill the roster with other reliable centers so that Davis doesn’t have to bear the brunt of the position during the arduous regular season.
Gasol was drafted by the Lakers in 2007 but had his rights traded to Memphis for his brother, Pau, before he ever played an NBA game.
On the Lakers, Gasol will be looking to win his second NBA championship. He won his first with the Raptors two seasons ago after Toronto landed him from the Grizzlies in a midseason trade. Gasol spent the first 10 seasons of his career with Memphis and was one of the founding fathers of the “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies who catapulted the franchise to new heights.
The 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol remains a stalwart on that end of the floor. The Raptors allowed a measly 98.9 points per 100 possessions when Gasol was on the court last season.
While his days as an offensive fulcrum are behind him, the 35-year-old averaged 3.3 assists in 26.4 minutes per game last season while stretching the floor as an effective 3-point shooter on a healthy number of attempts.
Gasol struggled to stay on the court in the playoffs, however, which could be a sign that Father Time is catching up to the 12-year veteran.