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Lakers buy out Luol Deng, open up cap space for 2019

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Los Angeles made a big move in their quest to move towards the top of the West.

NBA: Preseason-Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers are on a mission to catch up with the top of the Western Conference, and on Saturday morning they took a sizable step towards accomplishing that goal. Los Angeles is finalizing a buyout with forward Luol Deng, who has two years and $36.8 million remaining on his contract.

With the buyout (the Lakers are using the waive-and-stretch provision, which sounds a little bit like a friendly Pilates class), Los Angeles will be able to clear a significant chunk of money from their salary. They’ll still owe Deng the money (whatever is negotiated - it should be very near the full amount), but their salary cap will open up dramatically.

This is important because it will give the Lakers enough money to sign a player to a max contract in the summer of 2019. According to ESPN, the Lakers were scheduled to have about $25 million in cap space next summer, but will now have somewhere between $36 and $38 million.

That’s max contract money, and there will be players deserving of max contracts next summer. Most notably, Kawhi Leonard will be a free agent (assuming he opts out of the final year of his contract), and Jimmy Butler will be as well (assuming the same). Players like DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan may earn max contracts as well, and even if they don’t, Los Angeles will have the space to sign them and other free agents.

There are also, of course, a few members of the Golden State Warriors who will be available. Kevin Durant will presumably opt out of his one-plus-one deal, and while he seems committed to the Warriors, it’s impossible to know what he might choose to do. Linking up with LeBron James could be very appealing to Durant. Klay Thompson, whose father played for the Lakers and does color commentary for the team’s radio, will also be a free agent, though he has made it very clear that he intends to stay with Golden State.

Given the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, the history of the Lakers franchise, and the allure of playing alongside James, it seems highly likely that one of the top free agents will head to Southern California now that the team has the requisite cap space.

And while most of us believe that the Lakers are not contenders yet, that certainly could change with another key addition.