Could the San Antonio Spurs Be the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook Offramp?
While it won’t make them championship contenders this year, trading Russ and one unprotected first round pick to the Spurs could help the Lakers enjoy a winning year while also setting them up for a mega next summer.
The Lakers trade strategy this offseason has evolved to not giving up both draft picks, not taking back more salary than sending out, and not taking back long-term contracts that would reduce open cap space next summer. Sticking to that strategy and refusing to include a second first round pick cost the Los Angeles Lakers a chance to trade with the Pacers for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield or trade with the Jazz for Bojan Bogdanovic.
While it lacks the big names of the Pacers or Jazz trades, the Spurs trade would only cost Lakers one pick, enable them to win more games this year, and better position them to enjoy a blockbuster offseason next summer.
1. Spurs Provide Lakers’ Westbrook Offramp
This trade has the Los Angeles Lakers trading Russell Westbrook and their 2027 unprotected first round draft pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson, and a $25.4 million Traded Player Exception.
By adding Poeltl, who would be the starting center, and Richardson, who would be the starting shooting guard, the Lakers would immediately upgrade their starting lineup and improve their shot at a winning season. Just as importantly, dumping Westbrook would have left them with two key trading chips in the form of the $25.4 million TPE and their 2029 first round draft pick to use for a mega upgrade at the trade deadline or next summer.
The $25.4 million TPE would give the Lakers incredible financial flexibility. They could use it all on one star or split it up between two or three players. They could allow part of it to expire to avoid the luxury tax repeater status. The Lakers could use the TPE to acquire players on expiring contracts so they could create as much open cap space as possible for free agents next summer. Or sign players on two-year deals to sync with James and Davis.
Best of all, the Spurs trade provides the Los Angeles Lakers with an offramp from Russell Westbrook and the inevitable chaos that bringing him back would put the team and their new head coach through.
2. How the Spurs Trade Helps the Lakers Win Now
While it doesn’t make the Lakers championship favorites, the Spurs trade provides the Lakers with two perfect plug-and-play players in Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson who dramatically upgrade their starting lineup.
Poeltl and Richardson slot perfectly into the Lakers’ rotation as starting center and shooting guard. Though a budget version of Turner and Hield, Poeltl and Richardson dramatically improve the Lakers’ starting lineup. While he’s not a stretch five and a poor free-throw shooter, Poeltl is an elite defensive center who ranked 7th in the league in blocked shots. Richardson gives the Lakers desperately needed 3-point shooting and wing size.
The $25.4 million TPE, however, is the grand prize from the trade as it will allow the Lakers to take one or more players in trade without having to send our salary in return. The TPE is good for one year from date of trade. At trade deadline, there will be teams looking to move players to avoid luxury taxes. The Lakers will have the option of only accepting players on minimum contracts to preserve cap space or multi-year contracts.
The Lakers have to trade Russell Westbrook as allowing his contract to expire make him a free agent and leave L.A. with James and Davis as their only tradeable contracts, which would leave them unable to make a trade.
3. How the Spurs Trade Helps the Lakers Next Summer
The Lakers could enter next summer with either $35 million in open cap space to pursue free agents or a trade portfolio with two first round draft picks and $45 million in tradeable contracts for a blockbuster upgrade.
Unfortunately, the Lakers can’t have their cake and eat it too. They will have to decide which route to go before the February 9, 2023 trade deadline so they can aggregate a portfolio of expiring or tradeable player contracts. Should they decide to pursue free agents, they will then need to convert all of their contracts other than James and Davis into expiring contracts to create cap space or multi-year contracts to to match salaries in a trade.
Unspoken but surely a factor in the Lakers’ overall strategy is finding a superstar replacement for Russell Westbrook and for 237-year old LeBron James. Still at the top of the Lakers’ most coveted list is Kyrie Irving. Pursuing Irving via free agency seems like a remote chance since he will demand far more than the $ 35 million the Lakers could offer. Lakers would have a better chance of acquiring Irving via a sign-and-trade deal.
In the end, the Lakers best option for a mega makeover next summer would be to use their two picks and $45 million in tradeable long-term contracts to trade for a third superstar to take over when LeBron retires.