A little more than a week after the 2017 Finals came to a close, the NBA has lost its collective mind.
Trade rumors are flying hot and heavy in the wake of the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics flipping the third and first overall picks, and the Los Angeles Lakers reportedly followed suit on Tuesday by trading Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick in the 2017 Draft.
Let’s be very clear — this is not a good trade for the Lakers. They tanked Russell’s trade value by leaking reports about his work ethic, traded him for practically nothing and went from embracing the hard work of a true rebuild to trying to circumvent the process through free agency.
All of this is true, yet there are still legitimate reasons Los Angeles decided this was the right move to make. So journey with us as we try to understand just what the Lakers were thinking.
The Lakers are trying to get Paul George without giving up a premium
The Lakers probably don’t need to make a move for PG-13. He’s told anyone who will listen that he plans to head to Los Angeles, and no one-year rental by the Cleveland Cavaliers is going to change that.
Yet if Magic Johnson & Co. don’t want to take that risk, this trade with the Nets puts them in prime position to add George without giving up one of their prized assets. There are already plenty of reports the Lakers have offered Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and the Nos. 27 and 28 picks to Indiana for George.
Now, the Pacers will see if anyone’s willing to top the Lakers’ offer — and if not, PG should be in Los Angeles before the start of the season.
The only question is what number he’ll wear in purple and gold.
They can probably add a second superstar, but it won’t be LeBron James
Having cap space is great. It’s about the only way you can add stars in free agency (since the NBA neutered the old sign-and-trade), as the Warriors did when they signed Kevin Durant this past offseason. Finding a way to get rid of Timofey Mozgov’s ridiculous contract is a big win for the Lakers, even though that deal was a massive sunk cost.
The thing is, cap space can’t win you championships. Neither can hope. You need to go out and add players who will actually help you in your quest for a title — and LeBron James isn’t coming to the Lakers.
Even if they add Paul George in free agency, Los Angeles isn’t a championship contender any time soon. How are you going to convince the King to come join you if you can’t compete for a title? He’s not improving his odds of catching up to Michael Jordan with the Lakers.
Still, clearing enough cap space to make a run at one max free agent this summer and another in 2018 was the single biggest reason for this trade. My guess is Los Angeles is counting on Russell Westbrook to ditch the Thunder next offseason — loyalty be damned — to come home and join up with George.
The presumptive 2017 MVP could play next to Lonzo Ball (we’ll get to him in a minute) in the Lakers’ backcourt and give Magic the kind of star power he clearly craves in Southern California.
The Lakers were fed up with D’Angelo Russell
You and I know that Russell could be a potential star in the making despite spending his rookie year getting jerked around by Byron Scott.
The Lakers, on the other hand, know all about Russell’s immaturity and his lack of leadership skills, and they decided it would be in their best interests to send the young point guard elsewhere.
It seems like a ridiculous move from the outside. Every bit of criticism Los Angeles gets moving forward is well-earned. With all that said, I can’t shake the feeling that the Lakers know something we don’t if they were willing to sell so low on Russell.
Magic Johnson believes Lonzo Ball is the future
The Lakers could have made Ball and Russell fit next to each other in the starting backcourt. Russell is more of an off-ball guard, anyway, and Ball’s a far better shooter off of a pass than when he tries to use his weird motion off the dribble.
Developing that kind of chemistry would have taken time, though, and there was no guarantee the two high-profile guards would make things work in the long run. Rather than take that chance, the Lakers cleared the decks for Ball to run the team unimpeded.
It’s a risky move — not one that I would make, to be sure — but that’s Los Angeles’ logic. Apparently, we’re all just living in LaVar Ball’s grandest dreams.
Brook Lopez is a borderline All-Star who will help in L.A.
Lopez doesn’t tip the balance of this trade in favor of the Lakers on his own. He’s a 29-year-old fringe All-Star entering the final deal of his season; you don’t give away a potential franchise point guard just because you can acquire a center you see as a stretch-five, as the Lakers reportedly view Lopez.
So why celebrate Los Angeles’ acquisition of the Disney-loving big man? For one, he checks all the boxes you want in a locker-room veteran. He loves his teammates (Nets point guard Jeremy Lin called Lopez the “nicest guy ever”), he genuinely wants everyone around him to succeed, and he offers a potential role model for 20-year-old Ivica Zubac, who’s the Lakers’ center of the future.
Second, Lopez’s deal expires after next season, unlike the three years remaining on Mozgov’s deal. Between what Lopez can give you on the court and his cap-friendly situation, the Lakers added a significant piece in this trade.
That they had to give up the best player in the transaction isn’t great, but they’ll deal with those circumstances down the line. It’s the Lakers’ way.