The NBA has raised its salary-cap projection for the 2014-15 season from $62.9 million to $63.2 million.
The current salary cap for the 2013-14 season is $58.7 million. The new cap number, which won't officially be set until the NBA completes its annual audit in early July, would represent a climb of $4.5 million.
The Lakers could have a maximum of $28.2 million in cap space to spend this off-season, provided they renounce the rights to all their free agents, which allows the club to stretch out the final $9.7 million of Steve Nash's contract over three years (at just over $3.2 million a season).
The league limits how much a team can spend on players through the salary cap. The Lakers would be able to spend up to $63.2 million on free agency this summer -- although there are ways around that since the NBA primarily has a "soft cap."
Waiving and stretching Nash's salary would spread his salary over the next three seasons, reducing the Lakers' spending power for 2015-16, when players like Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rajon Rondo may be available, and 2016-17, when Kevin Durant could be a free agent. That loss in future flexibility might be reason enough for the Lakers to let Nash finish out his contract next season with the team.
The Lakers have only three players under fully guaranteed contracts next season, including Nash. Kobe Bryant will make $23.5 million and Robert Sacre $915,243. Kendall Marshall also has a non-guaranteed contract at $915,243.
Nick Young is expected to use his player option to become an unrestricted free agent, foregoing $1.2 million in pursuit of a bigger payday.
Each of the Lakers' own free agents takes up specific amount of the team's space, relative to their previous salary and number of years with the franchise. The player's cap hold is removed if they sign with another team or are either renounced or re-signed by the Lakers, although there are limitations when signing other team's free agents as well as re-signing a club's own players.
If the Lakers keep Nash and choose not to renounce Meeks, the team would have up to $20.8 million in cap space. Meeks can then be signed via his "Early Bird rights" to a contract starting in the neighborhood of $5.6 million for next season.
The Lakers can also make qualifying offers to Ryan Kelly ($1.0 million) and Kent Bazemore ($1.1 million) to make both players restricted free agents. Should the Lakers also keep Marshall's non-guaranteed deal with Kelly, Bazemore, Nash and Meeks, the franchise would still have $19.3 million to spend.
Re-signing Gasol could use up a sizable portion of that cap space.
Another factor that could change the Lakers' spending power is the May 20 NBA draft lottery. The Lakers currently have sixth position in the lottery. The player taken there will take up $2.7 million in cap space.
The higher the pick, the higher the salary. If the Lakers climb to the top pick in the draft (a 6.3% chance), that prospect would eat up $4.6 million in space.
The Lakers might also bring back Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry. Wesley Johnson's inconsistent play would put him more on the bubble, as would Henry's recent knee surgery. Neither MarShon Brooks nor Chris Kaman are likely to be back.
If Farmar, Henry and Johnson are willing to re-sign at the minimum, the Lakers can wait until after they spend their cap room before bringing any of the three back.