Quinn Cook signed with the Lakers hoping he could win their backup point guard job. But after a season largely spent on the bench, it became clear that Cook's shooting wasn't enough to make him a long-term Laker. If there was any doubt about his place on the roster, the writing was on the wall the moment the Lakers acquired Dennis Schroder as their presumptive sixth man. Even with Rajon Rondo potentially leaving in free agency, Cook no longer had a feasible path to minutes. So it only made sense when the Lakers waived the veteran guard, per The Athletic's Shams Charania. The move, on paper, appears to be part of a bigger plan.
The Lakers went on to thank Cook (and Danny Green) for their time with the franchise in a tweet.
Cook was owed $3 million for the 2020-21 season. Only $1 million out of that total was guaranteed, though, so in waiving Cook, the Lakers immediately save $2 million. If they so choose, they can save another $666,667 by using the stretch provision to spread that $1 million over the next three years. All told, the Lakers can get off almost 90 percent of Cook's salary for next season in one fell swoop. Jeanie Buss would certainly appreciate some cash savings, but in reality, this is likely a precursor to something else.
The Lakers, operating as an above-the-cap team, have two possible paths to free-agent spending. The first is the simpler taxpayer mid-level exception. This would allow the Lakers to offer a free agent a three-year deal worth around $18 million. There is no drawback to doing so. The Lakers could sign that player, retain their own free agents and call it a day. The more aggressive path involves using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. That would allow the Lakers to offer a free agent a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $39.8 million. The catch is that doing so triggers a hard cap. If the Lakers use that exception rather than the taxpayer alternative, they cannot spend above the apron ($138,928,000) for any reason.
How does this apply to Cook? The Lakers would probably like to use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. It's their best chance to add a truly impactful free agent, or, if they decide to divide it amongst multiple players, fill out their bench with big additions. Doing so would be difficult based on that hard-cap constraint, though. After the Dennis Schroder trade and waiving Cook, the Lakers have around $101 million committed in salary. JaVale McGee is opting into the final year of his deal, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. That's another $4.2 million on the books, and Avery Bradley has yet to decide on his $5 million option.
Suddenly, the books look fairly cramped. The Lakers would not only want to use that full mid-level exception, but retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as well. Depending on what he asks for, space to fill out the bottom of the roster would be very, very tight. Shaving Cook's money off the books takes the Lakers closer to that non-taxpayer mid-level goal. In that vein, don't be surprised if the Lakers look to trade McGee to a team that can afford to absorb him outright through either cap space or a trade exception. They have to shed money if they want to add a big-name free agent in the coming days. Getting off Cook is a good start.