By Mac the Intern
I love this time of year. The NBA Draft week! A week of rampant trade speculation, everyone fan is watching YouTube clips of a possible second-round pick from the College of St. William-St. Mary…it is the time we fans think of a possible franchise rebirth for our favorite teams.
We’ve already had two big trades, including a blockbuster move by the Lakers to bring in Anthony Davis (more on this later), in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks, including the #4 pick in tomorrow’s draft. Mike Conley Jr. was also shipped out of Memphis to the Jazz, for Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, this year’s pick, the 23rdoverall, a future first-round pick, as well as the living embodiment of “Sweep the legs, Johnny,” Grayson Allen. There is sure to be even more player movement between tomorrow night (Kevin Love? Bradley Beal? Chris Paul?) and the start of free agency. But let’s talk about that AD deal…
I’m not the only person who is thinking it, but I’m going to say it: the Vegas sports books saying that the Lakers are the overall favorite to win the NBA title based on this trade are idiots. Howard Beck, writing for Bleacher Report today, hit the nail on the head: with the upheaval in the Western Conference going into next season, the Lakers could head to the playoffs next season, carried by AD and LeBron. But they won’t make it far.
When the trade is actually carried out (it can’t be made official until July 6th), the Lakers will only have three players under contract: LBJ, Anthony Davis, and Kyle Kuzma. That’s IT. Lakers fans (especially them!) will tell you that they cleared cap to make the AD trade AND to nab another max player. Here’s the kicker: they won’t have enough to pursue that other max. The Lakers and Pelicans are going to make it official on July 6th, which gives the Lakers $23.6 million in cap room-but if they waited until August to make it official, they would have north of $30 million. They could also have saved around $4 million by (prior to the trade) negotiating with AD to waive a trade bonus. AD already said (up to this point) that is something he isn’t willing to do.
Even if the Lakers clear $30 million plus (which is what they would need to nab a third star), who is coming? Multiple reports have Kemba Walker taking less than a super-max deal to stay in Charlotte. It has been said that if Kawhi Leonard leaves Toronto, it will be for Los Angeles, just not to play with the Lakers. Kawhi doesn’t have any interest to suit up with LeBron (according to sources). And why would he? LBJ played in 55 games last year. He’s going into his 17thseason, and will be 35 when next season starts. So far in sports, Father Time is undefeated.
If the Lakers sign a Big Three, it might be the most top heavy Big Three ever, because the Lakers will have under $9 million to flesh out the rest of the roster. If the Finals this year taught us anything, it’s that roster depth is the most important thing you need when you’re planning on going deep in the playoffs. Then you have the picks-the number 4 overall pick this season; if the Lakers’ struggle and their pick is in the top-8 in 2021, the Pelicans receive that pick, and if it is outside of the top-8, that pick will transmit in 2022 (meaning that no matter what, that second first-rounder is going to the Pelicans no later than 2022); and the last first-rounder can be picked up in either 2024 or 2025 at the Pelicans choosing. Here is the kicker: if the Pelicans want, in 2023 they can swap picks with the Lakers. Rob Pelinka, general manager of the Lakers, might have saved his job in a public relations way, but he’s hamstrung the future of his franchise and left himself zero room to flesh out that team.
With that being said, will the Lakers be better next year? Absolutely. They’ll make the playoffs. The Blazers, Jazz, Rockets, Warriors are all still out there, and know they have some changes to make to continue to be relevant in the West (especially Golden State). Sacramento (remember them?) is a young team on the rise. Minnesota was a playoff team just a season ago and, again, is young. Then you have the Clippers, who without any real star power showed they were the better franchise overall in LA right now: better overall roster, better run, better perceived. No matter what Vegas says, I wouldn’t take that bet that the Lakers are winning the title.
(Trade details provided by CBSSportsline.com)