Why Lakers’ Best Path is Trade Russ to OKC and Then Hard Cap Themselves
The Lakers have a path to move Russell Westbrook but it’s going to cost them a first round pick and will have to be made before the OKC Thunder’s open cap space disappears when this NBA season ends tomorrow June 30th.
While trading Russ into OKC’s open cap space won’t yield a pair of proven rotation players earning $20 million per year, it would give the Lakers three borderline rotation players who would be upgrades over current players. Additionally, it would give the Lakers a $32.4 million traded player exception (TPE) to use to acquire players without sending out salary and the ability to hard cap themselves to be able to use the full $10.4M MLE and $4.1M BAE.
Let’s look at the advantages trading Westbrook to OKC gives the Lakers and why that could be their best path to rebuilding their roster and hopefully returning to being a legitimate contender with a chance at a championship.
Trading Russell Westbrook Into OKC’s Cap Space
Solving the Lakers Westbrook conundrum starts with trading Russ’ $47.1 million expiring contract into the Oklahoma City Thunder’s open cap space, which will disappear on July 1, 2022 when SGA’s new extension starts.
Other than the Pistons and Knicks who have cleared cap space specifically for free agents, the Thunder is the only team with the cap space to absorb $32.4 million of the $47.1 million left in Russell Westbrook’s expiring contract. Oklahoma City will want a first round pick from the Lakers as the price for using their cap space but should be willing to include elite perimeter defender Luguentz Dort and 3&D wing Kenrich Williams as quality rotation players.
While the Lakers have positioned themselves as unwilling to include a pick to move Westbrook, there is no way they want Russ to be part of the roster next season. Dumping him into OKC’s cap space opens other doors for the Lakers.
The Power of a $32.4 Million Traded Player Exception
Traded Player Exceptions allow teams to trade for players without having to send out salary. By sending out $47.1 million and receiving back only $13.4 million, the Lakers would create a $32.4 million traded player exception.
The Lakers could use the $32.4 million traded player exception from trading Westbrook into the OKC Thunder’s cap space for one or multiple players whom other teams are looking to move to save cap space and cut expenses. For example, the Lakers could use their TPE to trade for the Hornets’ Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, or Kelly Oubre, the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, or Buddy Hield, or the Knicks’ Evan Fournier or Cam Reddish
The Lakers’ $32.4 million Traded Player Exception would be good for a year and could be used to bring back a single elite player or multiple legitimate rotation players. It would be a valuable tool as teams look to create space.
The Benefits of the Lakers Hard Capping Themselves
Trading Russell Westbrook and their 2029 first round draft pick for Derrick Favors, Luguentz Dort, Kenrich Williams, and a $32.4 million traded player exception also enables the Lakers to take advantage of being hard capped.
Being hard capped has three distinct advantages over teams that are not hard capped. Hard capped teams get the full $10.3 million MLE vs. the $6.4 million TMLE, the $4.1 million BAE, and right to receive sign-and-traded players. Teams that are not hard capped are limited to the $6.4 million TMLE. Being hard capped opens up the entire free agent market as teams can receive players in sign-and-trade deals, a huge advantage for hard capped teams.
Being hard capped would allow the Lakers to sign an elite perimeter defender like Warriors’ guard Gary Payton II to the $10.3 million MLE and a young stretch center like Clippers’ Isaiah Hartenstein to the $4.1 million BAE.
Can Lakers Transform Themselves Into Contenders?
The reality is the Los Angeles Lakers will continue to be legitimate contenders to win an NBA championship as long as they have a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Nothing that happened last year has changed that.
For purposes of seeing what kind of team the Lakers could build by trading Westbrook into the Thunder’s cap space and hardcapping themselves, I’ve assumed the Lakers used their traded player exception on Gordon Hayward. I’ve also assumed the Lakers used their $10.3 million full MLE on Isaiah Hartenstein and their $4.1 million BAE on Gary Payton II and exercised their team options for Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Wenyen Gabriel.
Finally, I’ve assumed the Lakers traded Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and their 2027 first round draft pick to the Houston Rockets for Eric Gordon to provide elite 3-point shooting along with solid perimeter defense.
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