How the Lakers Could Upgrade Roster With Five or Six New Rotation Players
There’s a growing consensus among those who dislike or doubt the Los Angeles Lakers that there’s just no way they can fix their roster problems this summer to become a legitimate championship contender next season.
On the surface, that dire projection seems inevitable considering the Lakers only won 33 games this season and there was no interest at the trade deadline for Westbrook or Horton-Tucker, the team’s two best trading chips as players. What‘s different now is the Lakers have two first round picks to sweeten any trades and Westbrook’s bad contract has now become a $47 million appealing expiring contract for teams looking to dump bad long-term contracts.
In addition to trading Russell Westbrook and Talen Horton-Tucker, the Lakers should also make a strategic decision to hard cap themselves next season, which would then require them to remain under a $155.7 million hard cap. The benefits of being hard capped include not paying major luxury taxes, getting the full $10.4 million MLE and $4.1 million BAE instead of the $6.3 million mini-MLE, and being able to receive free agents via sign-and-trades.
Combined, the Laker should be able to get at least three rotation players who earn between $15 and $20 million per year in return for trading Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, and the team’s two first round draft picks. Additionally, the Lakers should also be able to sign two or three legitimate rotation players using their $10.4 million MLE and $4.1 million BAE. These would all be major upgrades over last season’s minimum salary players.
The Lakers clearly have a path to add five or six legitimate rotation players to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis this summer. So let’s take a look at whom the Lakers might be targeting via both trade and free agency.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK TRADE
The Lakers’ top offseason priority is to trade Westbrook for two legitimate rotation players. Because they would have to take $50 to $100 million in bad contracts, the Lakers should not be willing to include picks to move Russ.
Whether it’s posturing or serious, the Lakers have been hinting they would keep Westbrook if they cannot find a fair trade for him rather than swapping him to Houston for John Wall’s identical deal or waiving and stretching him. Because salaries have to match, the Lakers’ goal in trading Westbrook is to break his $47 million contract into two or three smaller contracts. Ideally, the Lakers would like to trade him for two players making around $20 million.
Here are four straight player trades with teams looking to create cap space by dumping players on long-term contracts for ones on expiring contracts. Rob Pelinka and the Lakers should be able to pull off one of these four trades.
1. Indiana Pacers Trade for Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield
Malcolm Brogdon (3 years and $67.8M) and Buddy Hield (2 years and $42.2M) are probably the best package the Lakers could hope to get for Russell Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract without a draft pick. Opportunities available to expand trade should include Myles Turner.
2. Charlotte Hornets Trade for Gordon Hayward and Kelly Oubre, Jr
Gordon Hayward (2 years and $60M) and Kelly Oubre, Jr. (1 year and $12.6M) are probably the second best package the Lakers could get back for Russell Westbrook without including a first round draft pick. Opportunities available to replace Oubre include Terry Rozier or P. J. Washington.
3. Houston Rockets Trade for Christian Wood, Eric Gordon, David Nwaba
Eric Gordon (2 years and $39.0M), Christian Wood (1 year and $14.3M), and Davis Nwaba (2 years and $10.0M) would be the third best package in return for Russell Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract without a draft pick. Lakers are also not interested in swapping Russell Westbrook for John Wall.
4. New York Knicks Trade for Julius Randle and Evan Fournier
Julius Randle (4 years and $104.4M) and Evan Fournier (3 year and $54.0M) are probably the fourth best package the Lakers could get straight up for Russell Westbrook and his $47 million expiring contract without a draft pick. Opportunities to expand trade should include Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish.
TALEN HORTON-TUCKER TRADE
Talen Horton-Tucker is the other Lakers player besides Russell Westbrook whom the Lakers must trade this offseason. There is a good chance that THT might be included in an expanded version of the Russell Westbrook trade.
While he’s only 21-years old, Horton-Tucker possesses dominating physical measurements. He has a 7' 1" wingspan, Kawhi Leonard sized hands, and a powerful body that weighs more than any other shooting guard in the NBA. While THT is not a great fit on the Lakers and needs to be on a young team surrounded by shooters where he could grow and develop into an elite two-way shooting guard/small forward, he still possesses exceptional upside.
Here are four possible THT trades that target potential Lakers starters and include one or two Lakers’ first round draft picks. Rob Pelinka and the Lakers should be able to pull off one of these four trades for key rotation player.
1. Detroit Pistons Trade for Jerami Grant
Trading THT, Nunn, Gabriel, and their 2027 and 2029 first round draft picks for an elite young 6' 8" 3&D wing Jerami Grant is probably the Lakers’ best available Horton-Tucker trade. Getting Grant would cost the Lakers two first round picks but fills what is thought to be their greatest defensive weakness.
2. Indiana Pacers Trade for T.J. Warren
The Lakers would have to agree to be hardcapped at $155.7 million if they were to pull off a sign-and-trade for Indiana Pacers free agent T. J. Warren, who’s essentially been injured the past two years. Warren would be the Lakers second best return for a potential Talen Horton-Tucker trade this summer.
3. Brooklyn Nets Trade for Nic Claxton
As with T.J. Warren, a sign-and-trade for Nic Claxton would also require the Lakers to accept a $155.7 million hard cap for next season. Claxton is a defensive specialist who can protect the rim and defend the perimeter. His defense is good enough that small ball teams cannot play him off the court.l
4. New York Knicks Trade for Cam Reddish
Cam Reddish would also be a great fit as the Lakers young bigger 3&D wing. THT and our 2027 first round pick should be enough to incentivize the Knicks to trade Reddish to the Lakers. New York didn’t really integrate Reddish into their rotations as he only played 14.4 minutes per game during the season.
MID LEVEL EXCEPTION
One of the strategic keys to the Lakers being able to successfully rebuild a championship caliber roster this summer is being able to live with being hard capped with total team salaries to be under $155.7 million for next season.
The Lakers’ three major benefits of being hard capped are (1) the standard $10.4 million MLE, (2) the $4.0 million BAE, and (3) the ability to receive a restricted or unrestricted free agent as result of a sign-and-trade transaction. That’s a total of $14.4 million to spend on free agents vs. $6.4 million if not hard capped. Not counting possible sign-and-trades, that means one $10 million and one $5 million per year player or three $5 million players.
Here are four possible free agent starters the Lakers could target with their full standard $10.4 million MLE. Rob Pelinka and the Lakers should be able to sign one of these four players to start with their Mid Level Exception.
1. Isaiah Hartenstein, Los Angeles Clippers Center
Isaiah Hartenstein should be the Lakers top free agent target and they should even be willing to give him their full $10.4 million MLE if necessary. He can be the modern rim protector and floor stretcher the Lakers need. Hartenstein is the Clippers version of Monk in that they can only offer him $4.7 million.
2. Bruce Brown, Brooklyn Nets Small Forward
Bruce Brown is second on the list of free agent prospects whom the Lakers could pursue with part or all of the $10.4 million full MLE. An elite defender who plays bigger than his 6' 4" body, Brown would be a great starting 3&D shooting guard and small forward and perfect fit next to LeBron and AD.
3. Pat Connaughton, Milwaukee Bucks Shooting Guard
Should Connaughton decline his player option to become an unrestricted free agent, the Lakers should try and sign him with their $10.4 million MLE. Pat is not only an elite defender but also a dead eye 3-point shooter. He would be an elite add to the Lakers for the same reason he’s been so good for the Bucks.
4. Jalen Smith, Indiana Pacers Power Forward
Jalen Smith is another player like T.J. Warren or Malik Monk whose likely to leave his current team. The Pacers do not have the ability to match his market value since they declined the third year option on his rookie contract. Smith will certainly receive offers greater than the $5 million the Pacers can pay.
The Los Angeles Lakers are eligible to use their $4.1 million Bi-Annual Exception this season to sign one player this season provided they elect to become hard capped at $155.7 million in total salaries for the year.
Being able to sign another non-minimum salary player via the BAE gives the Lakers another opportunity to add an important role player to the roster. The two trades and MLE and BAE will enable the Lakers to build a deep roster. Ideally, the Lakers want a rotation with no minimum salary players. Assuming an 8 or 9 player rotation, that means the Lakers need to add six or seven new quality rotation players to superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Here are four possible free agent players the Lakers could target with their $4.1 million BAE. Rob Pelinka and the Lakers should be able to sign one of these four rotation players to their Bi-Annual Exception.
1. Otto Porter, Jr., Golden State Warriors Power Forward
Otto Porter, Jr. should be the Lakers top target for their $4.1M BAE. The Warriors are likely to be moving on from several minimum salary players as James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga take on more minutes. Porter is a perfect bigger 3&D wing who can shoot the three and defend big wings.
2. Nemanja Bjelica, Golden State Warriors Power Forward
Nemanja Bjelica is the next Golden State minimum salary player who would be a perfect fit on the Los Angeles Lakers. Nemanja has good size and mobility and is an elite 3-point shooter who complements James and Davis. He should be the Lakers second choice for signing for their Bi-Annual Exception.
3. Gary Payton II, Golden State Warriors Shooting Guard
Gary Payton II is another Warriors’ minimum salary player who’s likely to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and would be a perfect candidate to sign with the Lakers for their B-Annual Exception. Payton is an elite defender who should fit in great coming off the bench with the Lakers.
4. Damian Lee, Golden State Warriors Shooting Guard
Damian Lee is another excellent minimum salary player who’s earned regular minutes in the Warriors’ rotation but is likely to be allowed to walk as a free agent this summer. Lee can play defense, shoot the three, and is a great bench player who has proven he can hold his own playing on a contending team.
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