Shaquille O’Neal has a bold plan for fixing the Los Angeles Lakers. He spoke about what the team should do on The Big Podcast with Shaq and landed on a strategy that would be impossible on several levels: make Klay Thompson the highest-paid Laker in team history (as transcribed by Scott Gleeson of USA Today).
“I’ll be like, ‘Klay, your contract is coming up. KD’s contract is coming up. Lots of guys’ contracts are coming up. They can’t pay you what we can pay you. You will be the highest-paid Laker in Laker history. One, I want you to come play with LeBron, and we want to get this thing cracking again. We want you to come live in LA.’
“So, I’m going to call Klay, myself, ‘I’m going to make you the highest-paid Laker in Laker history. Shaq didn’t make this much, Kobe didn’t make this much, Magic didn’t make this much, LeBron doesn’t make this much. We want to help build a team out here with LeBron. What do you say?’ Because if Klay’s going to win this year, he has four. But guess what? Klay’s not the man, he can come to LA and be the man.”
There are two enormous flaws in this strategy. The first is that the Warriors can pay Thompson more than any other team by virtue of his Bird Rights. Thompson’s max as an eight-year veteran without designated player eligibility is a deal starting at 30 percent of the salary cap, so next season, Thompson’s salary will be identical no matter where he plays. However, incumbent teams can offer deals up to five years in length while other teams can offer only four-year pacts. Additionally, incumbent teams can offer annual raises up to eight percent while other teams can only only five percent. Add all of that up, and the Warriors can offer a five-year contract in the neighborhood of $190 million while the Lakers could offer only a four-year contract worth around $140 million. Golden State has an enormous financial advantage over the field.
But ignoring the Warriors, the Lakers can’t even make Thompson the highest-paid player on their own team. He has only played eight seasons, meaning he can only make 30 percent of the salary cap in the first season of his new deal. LeBron James signed with the Lakers as a 15-year veteran, meaning his deal started at 35 percent of the salary cap. His contract totals $154 million over four years, and his salary next season will be around $37.4 million. Thompson will make around $32.7 million. The Lakers legally cannot make Thompson the highest-paid Laker in history.
Shaq doesn’t necessarily have the wrong idea in terms of trying to lure Thompson. They just can’t use money as an incentive. If the Lakers secure Thompson, it will be due to the opportunity to play with James and sentiment over joining the team that his father once played for. His overall suggestion is not legal under the salary cap.