After he dropped 27 points on the Clippers last night, we were hit with a ton of tweets and questions in today's chat about when the Lakers would bring in Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley. According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, apparently they already could have, but passed, rejecting an offer from Minnesota of Beasley for a first-round draft pick. The second pick of the 2008 draft makes just over $6.2 million this season, but could have been absorbed into the trade exception created by the Lakers in the Lamar Odom deal.
There are any number of totally valid reasons the Lakers wouldn't bite, despite an acute need for help at small forward and additional scoring punch. They could be frightened by Beasley's questionable maturity, or negative aspects of his game, and believe he's a bad fit. Maybe they prefer other targets, and need that pick to make a different deal. Perhaps, as some suspect, they're holding on to every asset they have until Dwight Howard and/or Deron Williams have signed new contracts, even if it means standing pat into the summer.
What will frighten fans, though, is the one cited by Broussard -- money:
"...With one of the league's highest payrolls at roughly $88 million -- well above the luxury tax threshold of $70 million -- the Lakers are due to pay $18 million in taxes this season. Since there is a dollar-for-dollar penalty for tax-paying teams, taking on Beasley's $6.2 million contract would add another $6.2 million to their tax bill and cost the Lakers an extra $12.4 million.
The Lakers' decision falls in line with their decision to trade Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for an $8.9 million trade exception in December. While Odom asked to be traded after finding out the Lakers put him in a foiled trade attempt to get Chris Paul, the Lakers' chief motivation for trading Odom was to chop their payroll and to save money.
Under the new revenue sharing plan in the recently adopted collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers will pay a bundle and because of that, owner Jerry Buss is no longer willing to spend so freely in going above the luxury tax, according to sources."
(UPDATE- 7:00 pm PT: 710 ESPN's John Ireland, who also serves as the team's radio voice, reports that a source inside the organization says the proposed deal was for both of L.A.'s first round picks, not just the one. Obviously that would change the equation substantially, making the trade far less appealing. However, he also indicates the financial concerns regarding this and other trades are real, and that the Lakers are hesitant to bring in salary without sending some out the door, which fits well with the concerns illustrated below.)
Passing on Beasley now doesn't mean the Lakers won't revisit the idea later -- there are still two weeks left before the trade deadline -- or spend money somewhere else, whether now or in the offseason. It does reinforce something I've been writing about since the lockout started: The new post-CBA universe will not be a kind place for the Lakers. Big picture, it's going to be very difficult for them to sustain a long run of success without having to tear down the roster and build it back up, both because of financial considerations (stiffer luxury tax penalties, increased revenue sharing responsibilities) and rules affording big spending teams fewer tools to maintain a quality roster. The Lakers have thrived historically on an ability to pull rabbits from a big purple and gold hat. They still have resources, but finding those bunnies gets much tougher.
There's just no way around it.
Still, to see money cited now as a reason the Lakers won't make a move, before the supertax kicks in after next year, will discourage fans for sure. The Lakers have always been willing to spend what was necessary to field a quality team. Now, evidence suggests that is changing. In fairness, the payroll is still among the NBA's highest (though no longer the highest), but many believe finances played a role in the Odom deal, and are also integral in the push to trade Pau Gasol.
Determining whether declining this offer was a good or bad move can't yet be done. Plenty of stuff can still happen, but at a time when trust in Lakers management is lower than it's been in a while, stories like this one, even if totally defensible on basketball and/or strategic grounds, will only stoke those fires and raise questions about what the final two-plus seasons of Kobe Bryant's contract will bring.