The Lakers always have to be in the spotlight.
Such is life in Los Angeles as the city's premier team. There are always big shoes to fill and a legacy to uphold. There is a reason the Lakers have won 16 championships and been in 25 Finals since moving to Los Angeles in 1961 (51 years). In that time period, the Lakers have missed the Playoffs just four times. Four times!
Mitch Kupchak has no intention of building a Lakers team that would break any of those streaks.
Thus, after two trips to the Finals were followed by two second-round exits, Kupchak pushed his chips into the center of the table and acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to pair with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The Lakers on paper have a Big Four. Big may not be enough of an adjective to describe it.
The Lakers have a three-time Defensive Player of the Year candidate at center in Dwight Howard. A two-time MVP at point guard in Steve Nash. Kobe Bryant (no other words necessary). And one of the best passing big men in the league's history in Pau Gasol.
Age is not the only thing making the Lakers worried about winning a title now. Los Angeles will commit $75 million to those top four players. The NBA's luxury tax will already apply to the team and it is not even at a complete starting lineup. Keeping that team together may be even more difficult next year when the heightened luxury tax sets in.
Instead a of a one-to-one tax, the Lakers will pay a likely two-to-one tax for a large chunk of their salary for next season. The new luxury tax system next season will charge $1.50-to-$1 tax for any amount up to $5 million over the luxury tax line. From $5 million to up to $10 million, there will be a $1.75-$1 tax. A $2.50-$1 tax for $10 million up to $15 million. And a $3.75-$1 tax for $15 million to up to $20 million.
The tax is meant to be more punitive for the higher spending teams. However, it is yet to be seen if this will work.
If the NBA, which at this time last year was still in the throes of a lockout that would claim basketball until mid-December, has its way through the new collective bargaining agreement, Los Angeles will be forced to split its team up or face a prohibitive bill from the NBA (to be redistributed to teams below the salary cap line). If you are Jim Buss and Jerry Buss, it may not be a real enticing future to star into (and that does not even get into re-signing Dwight Howard who will be a free agent at the end of this season).
Many believe the luxury tax will eventually pull the Lakers under and drag them back down to where the rest of the league is -- a constant yo-yo of balancing winning for now while also saving money. Kupchak will be charged with that task, and he does not seem to believe the luxury tax will matter much to him and his team's goals moving forward, as he tells Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:
My feeling is that we'll continue to pursue the top players in the league. There will always be an emphasis on having the franchise be able to survive and prosper.
That might be dancing around the issue of whether the Lakers will continue to spend an exorbitant amount of money in the pursuit of those ghosts in the rafters.
The Lakers have several advantages that will work in their favor. First is the location and the history of the ball club. There is no doubt marquee players will always want to play for the Lakers. Second, and most importantly, is the gigantic TV deal the Lakers have set in Los Angeles.
The Lakers signed a 25-year, $5 billion TV deal with Time Warner Cable that kicks in next season. It will provide the Lakers with $120 million in the first year alone. This may well cover that tax payment.
Considering how awash with money the Lakers are, Kupchak should have no problem spending, keeping the team competitive and winning at everyone else int he league's expense.
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