The 3-Team Trade That Would Make the Los Angeles Lakers Contenders

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusFeatured Columnist INovember 22, 2022

BROOKLYN, NY - NOVEMBER 20: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 20, 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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With LeBron James sidelined with a thigh injury, the 5-10 Los Angeles Lakers have pulled up from a dismal start to win three straight (vs. the depleted Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs). Is it enough to give the Lakers' front office any real hope that a blockbuster trade can make the team a Western Conference contender?

Zach Lowe on ESPN asked the challenging question: "What's the deal? What's the trade?"

𝙏𝙖𝙡𝙠𝙞𝙣’ 𝙉𝘽𝘼 @_Talkin_NBA

Zach Lowe: "It's easy to say, 'Trade 'em! Trade 'em! Trade 'em!' What's the deal? What's the trade?"<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBATwitter?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBATwitter</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LakeShow?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LakeShow</a> <a href="https://t.co/DZeo7zywbq">pic.twitter.com/DZeo7zywbq</a>

Well, Zach, challenge accepted.

Heart of a Deal

The following is legal before December 15, when most recently signed free agents are eligible for trade. The parameters could shift in a month with additional names potentially in play:

  • The Lakers trade Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029).
  • The Brooklyn Nets trade Kyrie Irving to the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • The Detroit Pistons trade Bojan Bogdanović, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Outside of L.A., the "who gets what" is subjective based on what the Nets prioritize most. They could swap out Irving for Westbrook or take on the Lakers' lower-priced role players for significant luxury tax savings.

The more minor details of a deal, including a required touch between the Nets and Pistons, would depend on Westbrook's destination. That might be a second-round pick or the rights to a previously drafted player. If the Nets take Westbrook, young center Day'Ron Sharpe could go to Detroit.

Why It Works for the Lakers

The Lakers aren't willing to move future first-round picks for players who won't immediately move the needle. The team remains the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA at 31.2 percent. Beverley at 24.4 percent and Nunn at 30.2 percent haven't been a solution.

Westbrook may have embraced his role off the bench, but he still doesn't complement James enough to make the Lakers a viable contender.

Irving, however, has a proven track record alongside James as the pair won the title together in 2016 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Lakers tried to acquire him over the offseason, and Irving was among the top targets with their projected cap space in July 2023—at least, he was until his recent suspension for promoting an antisemitic movie on social media and initially refusing to disavow antisemitism.

James expressed support for his former teammate, saying: "I love the kid. ... He's apologized for what he said, and I hope that he understands that what he said was harmful to a lot of people."

LeBron James @KingJames

the floor I think is excessive IMO. He’s not the person that’s being portrayed of him. Anyways back to my rehab session.

Acquiring Irving would give the franchise a chance in the West, especially with the additions from Detroit.

The Lakers pursued Bogdanović (averaging 20.5 points a game on 41.1 percent shooting from deep) before the Utah Jazz sent him to Detroit. Some within the Lakers' organization were perplexed that the Jazz were demanding a first from L.A. but settled for Kelly Olynyk and Saben Lee (subsequently waived) from the Pistons.

While Detroit gave Bogdanović a two-year $39 million extension ($22 million guaranteed), a source with the team recently expressed to B/R that while the Pistons are very happy with the veteran shooter, they could be open to a move ahead of the deadline for the right price.

Additionally, the Lakers pursued Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel (along with Cam Reddish) in talks last February with the New York Knicks. Burks scored 23 points in L.A. on Friday, and people close to the team believe that only reinforced his value to the Lakers.

Noel, an extra big man, may be more of a clerical move to enable the three-way trade. Burks and Noel have team options for next season in the $10 million range.

The Lakers would need to open one roster slot for the deal. That could be waiving Matt Ryan or including Wenyen Gabriel in the swap, although the latter is earning regular minutes in Ham's rotation. Other Lakers could be included after December 15, but this trade combination can be executed immediately.

Which One Works for the Nets?

The Nets were hesitant to trade Irving over the offseason with Kevin Durant's trade demand. Keeping Durant, who recently gave B/R's Chris Haynes an in-depth interview, is a priority for Brooklyn. If that goes sideways, the Nets face a very different conversation—so any Irving trade would need to pass muster with Durant.

If the team wants to part ways with Irving, a trade with the Lakers can bring in an immediate replacement or help Brooklyn save significant money.

With its roster of 15 players, the Nets (8-9) project to have a total payroll of roughly $293.1 million, including luxury taxes. Adding Westbrook, with Irving to L.A. and Sharpe to Detroit, Brooklyn would increase that burden to approximately $344.6 million.

The Nets could look to shed other players, but the Westbrook path represents an additional $51.5 million. Those figures alone may be reason enough to pass. Instead, the team could take on Beverley and Nunn from the Lakers.

Neither may significantly impact the Nets on the court. Beverley still fights defensively but has struggled on offense, while Nunn isn't quite himself after losing a year to a knee injury.

But when looking at the finances? It's a different story.

In addition to a first-round pick from the Lakers, the Nets could see their total payroll and tax drop to roughly $190.7 million. That's $102.4 million cheaper than Irving and $153.9 million less than the Westbrook alternative.

Additionally, the Nets would gain an $18.7 million trade exception for Irving that the team could use ahead of the trade deadline, near the draft or free agency, or into the first month of the 2023-24 season.

Irving has a 15 percent trade kicker, which would pay in the $4.4 million range (decreasing by nearly $210,000 daily until traded). The Nets would be responsible for paying Irving, although the Lakers could send an equal amount to Brooklyn in a trade. Irving can also waive the bonus outright.

It's a question of how Brooklyn feels about Irving moving forward. Some executives around the league view Irving as "toxic" or the Nets' situation as "a mess." If the franchise can trade Irving, shed over $100 million and add a valuable first-round pick, that could be a significant win, provided it doesn't trigger another Durant trade demand.

Or if money isn't a concern, perhaps Westbrook—even though his play style isn't for everyone—would be an attempt by the Nets to stay in contention, regardless of price.

Why It Works for the Pistons

Detroit has the makings of an exciting young roster, but 2021 No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham is out with a leg injury. The team has the worst record in the NBA (3-15) in a year when the projected top overall pick Victor Wembanyama is a potential game-changer.

Bogdanović (33) and Burks (31) are significantly older than the team's long-term core. Noel is barely cracking the rotation.

Bogdanović is a valued player to the coaching staff, but he may not be a big-picture priority for the front office. If the team can turn what was Olynyk, via Bogdanović, into a first-rounder from the Lakers? That's a win.

Perhaps the Pistons can convince the Lakers to include a few second-rounders to sweeten the pot. In general, the Lakers should fight to have as many protections as possible on their first-rounders, but Detroit (and Brooklyn) should take advantage of L.A.'s relatively cavalier approach to protecting picks.

If the Nets are willing to take Westbrook, the Pistons could reach roughly $21 million in cap space. That may be enough (or with subsequent moves to clear more salary) to make an offer to Charlotte Hornets restricted free agent Miles Bridges.

Bridges, who was arrested in June after allegedly assaulting his partner in front of their two children, recently pleaded no-contest to a felony domestic violence charge that will likely lead to a suspension. Two child abuse charges were dismissed as a result of the plea. Shams Charania of The Athletic recently linked both the Pistons and Lakers to Bridges.

The Hornets would have the right to match any offer, but the Pistons may feel that's an avenue worth pursuing if they have the means. L.A. would not be a likely Bridges destination with just the minimum to offer.

The Rally @TheRally

"I'm told there are several teams, including the Lakers and Pistons that are monitoring the situation."<br><br>NBA Insider <a href="https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ShamsCharania</a> has the latest on restricted free agent Miles Bridges. <a href="https://t.co/hjwNtRtHqs">pic.twitter.com/hjwNtRtHqs</a>

The Pistons probably don't view Westbrook, Beverley or Nunn as important rotation players and could look to trade whichever Lakers they receive. If Westbrook is bought out, the buzz around the league has him signing with the Miami Heat.

So to the prompt, "What's the deal? What's the trade?"

That's the best "realistic" trade for the Lakers to vault back into contention.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.