The Lakers will have to be smart about the contracts they give out if they want to bring Howard and Morris back.
The Los Angeles Lakers took 17 players with them to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando in July. Of those 17 players, eight of them will become unrestricted free agents. That number doesn’t include Avery Bradley, who oped out of the bubble for personal reasons and is expected decline the player option in his contract, or Danny Green, who is headed to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In total, the Lakers have just six players under contract for next season: Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Schröder and Talen Horton-Tucker. Even if JaVale McGee opts into his contract, they’ll only have eight. That’s a lot of open roster spots for the defending NBA champions.
While the Lakers will do their due diligence and look elsewhere for upgrades — both via the trade market and free agency — they’ll also try and re-sign some of their internal free agents. In addition to Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — two players Rob Pelinka is expected to negotiate new contracts with when free agency opens on Nov. 18 — the Lakers also want to bring back Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris, according to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
Howard and Morris both made cases for raises with their performances in the playoffs. Morris proved to be especially valuable, going 29-69 (42%) from 3-point in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Lakers don’t have the bird rights to Howard or Morris, so if either of them want more than the veteran’s minimum — something that is likely — they’ll have to re-sign them using an exception. That’s why it’s so important for the Lakers to stay under the tax apron and over the salary cap.
If the Lakers are granted the full, non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception, they can split $9.7 million between Howard and Morris. In the event that the Lakers sign someone using the bulk of the MLE, like Danilo Gallinari or Serge Ibaka, they can use the bi-annual exception, worth $3.8 million, to bring back Howard or Morris. The point is: they need that full mid-level exception to bring back Howard, Morris and an additional impact free agent.
For that reason, every contract the Lakers negotiate from here on out is going to be significant. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be the first domino to fall.