By waiving Luol Deng today rather than yesterday, the Lakers sent a clear signal as to when they plan for this core to compete
Earlier today, the Lakers waived Luol Deng. In doing so, they fully tipped their hand on their ongoing strategy and told us contextually that they were focusing on competing in future years, and not in 2018-19.
This reasoning comes from the way the stretch provision is structured. For any player waived between July 1 and August 31, their salary for the current season, as well as any future seasons, is paid over the next n seasons, where n is the number of seasons remaining on the contract multiplied by two, plus one. So someone with one season remaining would have their salary paid over the next three seasons, two seasons gives five, three gives seven, etc. Non-guaranteed years count as well, as we recently saw in the Kyle Singler waivers, which basically allowed the Thunder to stretch one year over five, because he would make no money after being waived in that second year.
Teams can then elect whether or not they want to also move their cap hit over the same time frame or just leave it in place. Usually when we refer to someone being “stretched”, we’re talking about someone for whom the team also elects to stretch the cap hit as well, and not just the salary.
But all of that only applies if they waive the player on or before August 31. You’ll note that today is not on or before August 31, and in fact, it’s the day after. What that means is that the player’s salary for the current year stays exactly where it is, and only the remaining years are eligible to be stretched.
In Luol Deng’s case, that means that he’ll earn the full $18 million for this year, and then the $18.8 million that he was due to make in 2019-20 will be stretched over the next three seasons, minus part of the $7.5 million he was willing to unguarantee in order to make the waivers happen. If they had waived him yesterday, they would have had to stretch the full $36.8 million (Also minus the $7.5 million that he unguaranteed) across five years. You can see the exact numerical consequences in this chart.
And the consequences there are clear: The Lakers made this move in a way that helped the future at the cost of the present.
That kind of tells us what we already had an inkling of based on the players they were signing. The Lakers went out and grabbed a bunch of one year contracts on hit or miss players, looking to take a year to let their young guys develop. If Rondo works out, then great, and they’ll re-sign him. If he doesn’t, then they let him walk next year. Same with Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee, Michael Beasley, and Kentavious Caldwell Pope.
And that’s a risky proposition, sure, since there are probably only so many more years where LeBron is going to be LeBron, but it’s the direction they’ve gone with. If nothing else, you can say they have a plan, where at points this offseason it looked like they didn’t. They plan to compete in the future over now, and while this season won’t entirely be forfeit, it’s not the priority.