Lakers News: Latest on D'Angelo Russell, JR Smith, Kawhi Leonard Pursuit

Theo SalaunContributor IJune 26, 2019

Brooklyn Nets' D'Angelo Russell in action during the second half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Monday, April 15, 2019, in Philadelphia. 76ers won 145-123. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

While LeBron James gets amped up about filming Space Jam 2, the Los Angeles Lakers are getting primed to add some more co-stars and colorful side characters to their roster and coaching staff this offseason. They've already added a lanky 18-year-old with a fun name and funner game, Talen Horton-Tucker, in the draft. And now they're being linked to Golden State's bespectacled defensive maestro, assistant coach Ron Adams. 

Horton-Tucker, a versatile 6'4" swingman with a 7'1" wingspan, told Lakers.com reporter Mike Trudell that L.A. is "a dream destination." Now, it remains to be seen which free agents will join him in La La Land. The names most recently getting linked: D'Angelo Russell, JR Smith and Kawhi Leonard. 


Run It Back: The Return of D'Angelo Russell?  

D'Angelo Russell's departure from Los Angeles, after being drafted second overall in 2015, was unceremonious at best. After averaging just 14.3 points for the Lakers on 40.8 percent shooting and, more importantly, tarnishing his reputation among his teammates by exposing Nick Young's extracurricular activities on social media, Russell was traded to the Brooklyn Nets.

After averaging 21.1 points and 7.0 assists on 43.4 percent shooting in an All-Star campaign, Russell is being rumored, per Fred Roggin of NBC LA, as a target of the Lakers in free agency along with a "defensive specialist" and that a "lights out shooter also has interest."

Fred Roggin @FredNBCLA

According to sources.. #Lakers set meeting with D’Angelo Russell. Club working towards setting meetings with defensive specialist and a lights out shooter also has interest. To be continued....

"Now he's ready. He's much more mature," Magic Johnson told Bill Oram of The Athletic. As a talented shooter and playmaker, the 23-year-old Russell fits alongside James and Anthony Davis perfectly and would come at a cheaper cost than Kemba Walker. While Walker's max with a team outside of Charlotte would be $140.6 million across four years, Russell's max outside of Brooklyn would be $117.2 across the same span. 

As for the defensive specialist and lights-out shooter? Patrick Beverly and JJ Redick make the most sense. Russell (36.9 percent), Beverly (39.7) and Redick (39.7) all shot admirably from deep this season—a requisite for a LeBron-led team. If Brooklyn is ready to move on and L.A. is ready for a reunion, the fit for D-Lo might be better with the Lakers than anywhere else. 


Reuniting JR and LBJ

The Cleveland Cavaliers are shopping JR Smith, whose contract offers a tremendous amount of salary-cap relief. When he does get waived for that glorious cap space, the Lakers are expected, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (h/t Marc Stein of the New York Times), to swoop in and sign LeBron's former running and gunning mate for some bench shooting.

Marc Stein @TheSteinLine

From @ChrisBHaynes … keep an eye on J.R. Smith ultimately landing with the Lakers after the Cavaliers trade him -- which Cleveland is trying to do as we speak https://t.co/worjgIXgny

Smith's contract is partially guaranteed at $3.8 million but becomes fully guaranteed at $15.6 million Sunday. This means that a team can trade for Smith while packaging a valuable asset to entice Cleveland and then waive him to earn $11.8 million in cap space. Cap relief is at an absolute premium right now, and the Cavaliers have already allegedly, per Cleveland.com, turned down first-round picks in anticipation of greater value for the services of Smith's team-friendly contract.

Regardless, whether traded or not, Smith is a career 37.3 percent three-point shooter who knows LeBron well and could, at the very least, help space the floor in L.A.


Clearing Cap for Kawhi Leonard  

The Lakers have about $19 million in cap space right now. That could jump to $23.8 million if they get rid of Reggie Bullock's cap hold, $27.8 million if Davis waives his trade kicker and over $30 million if they're able to offload players like Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga. As reported by Stein, the Lakers are still on the hunt for Kawhi Leonard, despite the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors becoming popular front-runners. 

Marc Stein @TheSteinLine

The Lakers have believed for weeks -- even before they acquired Anthony Davis -- that they would factor into the Kawhi Leonard chase. This has been widely billed as a two-team race between the Clippers and Toronto, but the Lakers' chance to hush their skeptics is fast approaching

The sentiment that the Lakers are still involved was echoed by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, who believes that Kawhi's camp have "kept their eyes on the Lakers and what that's going to look like ... what number [they can] get to in free agency in terms of cap space." If the Lakers are able to clear up enough cap space and get a meeting with Leonard, maybe the superstar wing can be wooed by the prospects of a championship in hometown sunshine alongside one of the greatest players to ever play.

Coming off an All-Star, championship-winning season in which he averaged career highs in points (26.6) and rebounds (7.3), Leonard would be a perfect fit on any team. If Davis waives his kicker and the team cunningly moves some money around, the Lakers should still have a chance at assembling Hollywood's greatest cast since The Expendables 3.