The Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the most intriguing teams this offseason. They surprised a lot of folks by drafting D'Angelo Russell with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, they have cap space to bring aboard some premier free agents and they've been the subject of trade rumors for the past week.
Their plans for the entirety of this offseason may hinge on one player, however: DeMarcus Cousins. Rumors emerged near the draft suggesting that the team had interest in acquiring the star center, and they haven't gone away. Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Daily News reported that the team would be willing to send Russell to the Sacramento Kings as a part of a trade package for Cousins, per a league source.
If the Lakers land Cousins, it could alter how they approach free agency. According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, the Lakers are a top-four destination for both DeAndre Jordan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but the team would surely see no need for Jordan if it acquires Cousins.
And a player like Aldridge or Kevin Love—both accustomed to being top-two options for their teams—might hesitate to join a squad that already possesses two elite options like Cousins and Kobe Bryant.
Or at least two players who perceive themselves to be elite options. The jury is still out on Bryant still being elite at this point in his career.
On the other hand, with Cousins in tow and Julius Randle returning from a leg injury, the Lakers might want to focus their money on other positions in this particular scenario. One player who could be intriguing for the team is Jimmy Butler, who reportedly wants to sign a short-term contract with the Lakers, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Butler is a restricted free agent, of course, and the Bulls would likely match any offer he signs to ensure that he stays in Chicago. The Lakers would have to sign him to at least a two-year deal as well, given the NBA's salary-cap rules. Add it all up, and—as Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk noted—this rumor is likely more about posturing than about a true interest in joining the Lakers:
This is an agent trying to use the Lakers to leverage the Bulls. There will be a lot of that this season, whether it is Dwyane Wade or a host of others, if an agent is looking to create leverage he’ll use the big market and wads of cash that the Lakers have to do it.
This is simply an effort to get the Bulls to offer Butler a shorter deal and not the five-year max, because like everyone Butler would love to tap into that television money that is about to start flowing into the NBA in 2016.
So, no, don't expect Butler to be joining the Lakers—at least not this offseason.
Of course, don't be surprised if the Lakers aren't that interested in moving Russell—even for Cousins—either. The front office and coaching staff have spoken highly of Russell since making him the No. 2 overall pick, and head coach Byron Scott even invoked the game of the biggest Lakers legend of them all when analyzing Russell's game, per J.A. Adande of ESPN.com:
There is no other Magic Johnson -- let's get that straight right now. I'm not comparing him to Earvin. I'm comparing the way he thinks about the game to Earvin.
Make the people around you better, think about the team first, think about being a true point guard. And then if you have to -- we know [Magic] was very capable of -- 'If you ask me to score, I can do that for you too.' That's what I think this kid can do.
That's high praise, indeed. And while Russell may not ever live up to it, the fact that the Lakers believe in him so much makes it hard to believe they'll trade him—especially when they might be able to address their lack of quality big men through free agency.
It will be interesting to see which route they take. But one thing seems clear: Much of this offseason is going to go through Los Angeles—one way or another.