Los Angeles Lakers governor Jeanie Buss believes her franchise can win another title with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But are those two stars and an underwhelming roster around them really enough?
Perhaps they need some more star power. Maybe it's time the Lakers and agent Rich Paul work together to bring another Klutch Sports Group client like Zach Lavine to L.A.
That theory received ammunition Tuesday from ESPN's Brian Windhorst on his podcast The Hoop Collective. He said the initial buzz that LaVine would re-sign with the Bulls has subsided, and the Blazers have "popped up" as a potential destination. It's a leap to tie that intel to the Lakers—but not a big one for the fanbase.
But assuming Russell Westbrook inevitably opts into the final year of his contract at $47.1 million, how could the franchise really afford Lavine?
Lakers fans are already hoping LaVine manipulates his way to Los Angeles.
The wish starts with hoping LaVine—who signed with Klutch last August—gives the Chicago Bulls an ultimatum: sign-and-trade him to the Lakers or watch him leave as a free agent.
There are teams like the San Antonio Spurs or Portland Trail Blazers that have enough cap space to pay his projected $36.6 million maximum salary.
Even if LaVine wanted Chicago to facilitate the move, would Los Angeles have the means to get a deal done under the complex rules of the collective bargaining agreement? The answer is a soft yes. It's possible but very difficult.
The Lakers wouldn't be able to sign LaVine outright at his price. Even if the franchise offloads every player outside of James and Davis, cap space would max out at around $29.5 million.
Los Angeles would need to trade Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn (expected to opt in at $5.3 million) and Westbrook without bringing back salary. Subsequently, assuming LaVine would take a sizable discount to fit into space the Lakers aren't likely to have is nonsense.
The only real solution would be a sign-and-trade, which presents different issues, most notably an approximate $155.7 million hard spending limit for the 2022-23 season. With just James, Davis and LaVine under contract, the Lakers would only have $36.6 million to flesh out the remainder of the roster. Keeping Westbrook and his $47.1 million is a non-starter.
Even if Chicago were open to a one-to-one swap of LaVine for Westbrook (unlikely), the math wouldn't work. With LaVine getting a significant raise, his outgoing trade value to the Bulls would be his 2021-22 salary of $19.5 million—$18.1 million short in contracts to match for Westbrook.
If LaVine tried to make the fan theory a reality, the Lakers and Bulls would need to rope in a third team to take Westbrook.
Westbrook to OKC?
Can the Lakers front office find a team that values Westbrook enough to take on his massive, albeit expiring, salary?
While they may have several opportunities, the price may be prohibitive. For the Lakers to take on long-term salary and/or send out future draft considerations, the return has to give the team a credible path to contention.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the lone franchise with cap space before the 2022-23 calendar year begins July 1. With up to $31.8 million in room, the Thunder could take back Westbrook in return for Derrick Favors (player option) and Mike Muscala (team option), provided both options are exercised.
If the Lakers and Thunder can agree on proper draft considerations—i.e., at least one first-round pick, if not two—that might help Westbrook relocate, but it doesn't help LaVine get to Los Angeles. Oklahoma City doesn't project to have significant cap space in July when the 27-year-old guard is eligible to sign his next contract.
The Lakers might need to target the Indiana Pacers' large trade exception to absorb Favors ($10.5 million for Jeremy Lamb). Perhaps some cash (up to $4.4 million from the Lakers) and some pick swapping (Thunder send Nos. 30 and 34 to the Pacers for No. 31) can satisfy everyone.
Los Angeles can't get LaVine directly via the Thunder. In shedding Westbrook for Muscala in June, the Lakers would generate a $40.7 million trade exception, which they could use in July to acquire LaVine via a sign-and-trade.
With the working assumption that LaVine is pushing for a trade or leaving as a free agent, a $19.5 million trade exception and draft considerations are better for Chicago than losing its All-Star without compensation.
The Lakers could offer other players, including Chicago natives Horton-Tucker or Nunn. But neither is a requirement for the Lakers to stay below the hard cap.
The Pacers may be open to getting off the multiyear salaries of Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield. Brogdon has three years and $67.6 million remaining on his contract. Hield has two and $39.8 million, with an additional $8.9 million in unlikely incentives.
Indiana is one of the few teams that can drop under the cap in July. Assuming the Lakers have enough in draft considerations to incentivize both the Pacers and Bulls, Indiana could have the space to execute an imbalanced trade for Westbrook with Brogdon or Hield to the Bulls.
That may make more sense as a salary dump for the Pacers with Brogdon, who struggled with injury this season. But do the Bulls view him as an asset or a liability? Would Chicago prefer the more durable Hield and his high-volume shooting?
Grant to the Bulls?
Many competing executives expect the Detroit Pistons to move Jerami Grant this summer. Heading into his final season at $21 million, Grant is extension-eligible, for up to $25.1 million in starting salary.
The Pistons could have enough cap room, while retaining Marvin Bagley III, to trade Grant for Westbrook, either directly to the Lakers or the Bulls in a three-way deal. That could be a win for Chicago under the circumstances, adding a lengthy defender and scorer in Grant.
Again, the onus is on the Lakers to compensate the Pistons for taking on Westbrook. The market should be established ahead of the draft, but the early buzz has the Trail Blazers eying a run at Grant.
A Magic Solution
If the Orlando Magic can stay where they are (No. 2) after the lottery, they could add an elite prospect like Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren. If so, the team may move on from Jonathan Isaac, who missed the past two seasons after a knee injury in 2020.
Because of specific injury exclusions in his contract, triggered by Isaac missing over 25 games this season, his remaining three years and $52.2 million is now $23.6 million guaranteed. But that team-friendly savings only triggers if Isaac is waived.
The Magic could look to move Isaac with Terrence Ross and, if the team drafts Holmgren, perhaps Mo Bamba via sign-and-trade.
Would Chicago be willing to take Ross, Horton-Tucker and a first-rounder from the Lakers if LaVine insisted on leaving?
What would the Lakers need to give to get Orlando to use its cap room on Westbrook? Is dumping Isaac and Ross enough, or would the Magic also require a first-round selection?
Or maybe none of the listed teams are willing to do business with the Lakers for Westbrook. Maybe L.A. doesn't have enough to get off his salary and bring back high-level talent.
And there's no tangible evidence LaVine will leave Chicago, let alone attempt to push his way to Los Angeles. For now, it's just fan fiction.