There are a series of notable elements surrounding the Wizards trading 2019 lottery pick Rui Hachimura to the Lakers for Kendrick Nunn and second-round picks, but one of the most fascinating is how this trade affects the Lakers’ 2023 offseason.
Heading into the Feb. 9 deadline, it appeared Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office had a choice to make: Either maximize cap space for July by not trading Russell Westbrook or use his salary to take on a larger multi-season contract to stay over the cap for 2023-24 and beyond. While it may seem at first that trading for a pending restricted free agent pushes the Lakers further toward the cap space path, that is actually incorrect because of how the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement handles cap holds.
The intention behind cap holds is to function as a placeholder for free agents that prevents their team from gaming the system by using cap space and then re-signing all of its own free agents. The CBA includes a detailed system of where to set the cap hold in each situation based on the player’s previous salary, contract and other factors. One of the groups with the largest jumps between previous salary and offseason cap hold are first-round picks, presumably on the logic that their prior salary is artificially restricted by the rookie scale and young players often improve quite a bit over those first four seasons.
In this case, that nuance means that while Hachimura only makes $6.3 million this season, he will count on the Lakers’ books at a whopping $18.8 million when the 2023 offseason begins.