The best case for the Los Angeles Lakers: Get through the 2020-21 season with another championship, LeBron James gets his fifth—catching franchise legend Kobe Bryant—and the Lakers overtake the rival Boston Celtics with 18 titles.
But then what? Could the Lakers roll back the same squad for a three-peat?
Anthony Davis and James are a great starting point, but when it comes to players like Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder, the franchise may face an unsolvable puzzle returning the rest of the roster.
Drummond, in particular, faces a murky future with the Lakers. In late March, he joined the Lakers for the remainder of the season for almost $800,000 after a buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When head coach Frank Vogel spoke after Drummond's first practice, he said: "We're hopeful that [Drummond is] a Laker for a long time to come. That's what we're envisioning, and we think he's going to be a key piece for us both in the short term and in the long term."
Easy to say—far more complicated for the Lakers to pay Drummond enough to stay. The veteran is limited by non-Bird rights to just a contract starting at $2.9 million for next season. Will he happily turn down what could be big money from other teams to stay in Los Angeles for less?
Can the Lakers find a way to keep Drummond but other key potential free agents like Schroder and Harrell as well?
Given how short careers are in the NBA and how difficult it can be for players to be patient financially, it's not a given the Lakers will be able to navigate the offseason without significant sacrifices.
The Big Problem
In trading for Schroder in the offseason, the Lakers also acquired his full Bird rights, enabling them to pay him more than any other team to stay. They don't have that same luxury with their big men, just non-Bird rights.
Harrell will almost certainly opt out of the second year of his contract ($9.7 million) for the chance to earn a wealthier deal elsewhere. At worst, he can re-sign in Los Angeles with a relatively small raise ($11.1 million), not a dollar more.
At least that's in the ballpark, compared to the amount they can pay Drummond without cap room or an exception. Given the team's investment in James and Davis, cap room isn't a viable option.
Los Angeles will, however, be able to pay more to Drummond via the taxpayer mid-level exception (projected at $5.9 million) or the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9.5 million). The former would solve many of the Lakers' issues, allowing them to spend freely to re-sign other free agents like Schroder and Harrell.