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With season over, Lakers must consider payroll options

Dwight Howard can decide to become a free agent, the Lakers can amnesty a player and several reserves probably won't return. The Lakers have the largest payroll in the NBA and could look to lower taxes.

April 28, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake or Pau Gasol could be amnestied. Dwight Howard can sign with the Lakers for five years and $118 million.
Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake or Pau Gasol could… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

That was a waste of a season. Now what?

The Lakers' headaches won't get any smaller after a first-round sweep by San Antonio.

Will Dwight Howard stay or go as a free agent this summer? If he remains, will Pau Gasol be traded or waived via the amnesty provision?

What about Coach Mike D'Antoni, who still has two more years and $8 million on his contract? And a host of lesser players whose contracts expire in June?

General Manager Mitch Kupchak will be a busy man, though it won't start for a while. The Lakers are hamstrung until Howard decides what to do.

Free agency begins July 1. Howard can sign with the Lakers for five years and $118 million or go somewhere else for four years and $88 million.

"I'm going to step away from everything for a couple weeks and clear my head before I do or talk about anything as far as next season," Howard said Sunday. "I think I deserve that and that's what I'm going to do."

The Lakers have a $100-million payroll this season, easily the largest in the NBA. They pay an additional $30 million in luxury taxes now, but if they have a $100-million payroll next season, they'll owe another $85 million because of a meteoric increase in taxes outlined in the collective bargaining agreement of 2011.

If the Lakers want to pay $30 million in luxury taxes again next season, they have to drop to a payroll of about $86 million.

A very important one-week window is July 10-16. It's the only time a team can "amnesty" one player, still paying his salary but avoiding luxury taxes on it. The Lakers have four players who fit the criteria of being on their roster since July 2011: Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake.

Bryant makes $30.5 million next season. The Lakers will not amnesty him despite his torn Achilles' tendon. First of all, he could be back in time for opening night (or as late as mid-January) based on his recovery timetable. Second, it's a calamitous public relations move to dump their all-time leading scorer so unceremoniously.

Blake makes a relatively low $4 million, a bargain in a league where the average player salary is $5.3 million. He won't be amnestied either.

It leaves Gasol ($19.3 million guaranteed next season) or World Peace ($7.7 million player option). The Lakers would drop way down in payroll by waiving Gasol or at least trading him for lower-paid talent. World Peace will almost certainly exercise his player option in June, a few weeks before the amnesty period.

Steve Nash, 39, has two more years and $19 million on his contract. He will almost surely be back because a subpar season dims his trade value.

The Lakers' reserves will have a different look.

Antawn Jamison was hot and cold, didn't mesh with D'Antoni and wouldn't again accept the veteran's minimum ($1.4 million) to stay.

Earl Clark made $1.2 million this season and would be back only if he came cheaply.

Guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock showed some scoring punch against San Antonio. It won't cost the Lakers much if they return.

Chris Duhon is on the books for $3.75 million next season but can be bought out for about one-third that amount. He won't be back.

The team holds an affordable $1.6-million option on Jodie Meeks next season and fan favorite Robert Sacre can be brought back for a relatively inexpensive price of less than $1 million.

Jordan Hill has one more year on his contract for $3.6 million. Devin Ebanks is in the last year of his contract and will not be back.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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