NBA Trades to Get LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers a 3rd Star

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2020

NBA Trades to Get LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers a 3rd Star

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Another star? To the Los Angeles Lakers? After they just won an NBA title? And already have Anthony Davis (player option) and LeBron James?

    How much more help do they need?

    Potentially, none. The Lakers are reigning champs. Left alone, they can stage a worthwhile title defense.

    Still, the Western Conference isn't getting any easier. The Golden State Warriors will be healthier. The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets will be just as good, if not better. The Utah Jazz could be healthier. At least one of the up-and-comers, like the Dallas Mavericks or Phoenix Suns, could go boom. And the Houston Rockets—well, never mind.

    Standing relatively pat is the Lakers' right. They can re-sign Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (player option), use their mid-level exception, scour the market for discounted ring chasers and enter next season as one of the foremost title favorites.

    Or they could be more aggressive, attempting instead to acquire a third star. Any successful pursuit would come at the expense of their depth and what few assets they have, but top-end talent is, by and large, worth that opportunity cost. Especially for the Lakers.

    LeBron turns 36 in December. Los Angeles' window is now. Landing another star could both optimize and lengthen it.

    One thing to remember before we cannonball into the hypothetical: There is virtually no star-trade scenario in which the Lakers can't be outbid. They need to be opportunistic with their searches, focusing on players who aren't being flipped at the peak of their values, oftentimes making fit concessions in the process.

    What follows isn't a smorgasbord of endorsements. It's a list of household names the Lakers might be able to talk themselves into and stars who are or could theoretically become available for much less than a king's ransom.

Danilo Gallinari Sign-and-Trade

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Danilo Gallinari (sign-and-trade)

    Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Danny Green, Talen Horton-Tucker, No. 28 pick in 2020 draft

    Danilo Gallinari bends interpretations of a third star but doesn't break them. He's averaging 18.8 points on a 60.8 true shooting percentage since 2015-16. Looping him into this discussion is hardly egregious.

    The Lakers would ideally prefer to sign Gallinari outright. Only four teams are guaranteed to have cap space entering free agency—Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit and New York—and not one of them is on the type of win-now timeline that suggests they'll throw big money at a 32-year-old combo forward.

    A naked market could depress Gallinari's value to mid-level-exception territory, in which case the Lakers have a leg up on everyone who didn't just win a title. So, everyone.

    Expecting Gallinari to fall into the sub-$10 million price range still feels a little too whimsical. The Oklahoma City Thunder would be better off giving him a few million above that rate and flipping him later, assuming he's not resigned to accepting a huge pay cut and joining a contender.

    Exploring sign-and-trade scenarios looms as the Lakers' most likely path to Gallinari, someone who more than capably fills their shot-creation void behind LeBron James, albeit without addressing their need for a secondary playmaker. How they concoct these packages depends on the money coming back.

    Danny Green's $15.4 million salary is a fair placeholder. That's a number Gallinari would be able to find in a more reasonable, cap-rich market. But Green alone shouldn't do it for the Thunder. He is 33 and on an expiring contract. They need wings who can shoot, but he doesn't fit the mold of a team that is gearing up for a rebuild.

    Dangling whoever's taken with the No. 28 pick or Talen Horton-Tucker alone might get the job done. It shouldn't be enough if other teams are on the prowl for Gallo sign-and-trades. He has plenty of leverage as an actual free agent, but Oklahoma City isn't yet far enough beneath the luxury-tax line to take back equal salary without thinking twice.

    Finding a third team to acquire Green and send someone or something more interesting the Thunder's way is a must if the Lakers want to avoid giving up both—or either—THT and No. 28. Alternatively, they could try to cobble together packages that don't include Green. If Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee opt in, Los Angeles can take back around $14 million by pairing them with the No. 28 (as actual money).

    Including THT in this framework allows Gallinari to get an even higher starting salary while making it more attractive to the Thunder. But four-for-one swaps are tough. The Lakers would likely need to suss out takers for McGee and/or Bradley to maximize Oklahoma City's immediate cap relief and body count. Failing that, they'd need to put Kyle Kuzma or Alex Caruso on the table to sell the Thunder on a straight-up four-for-one swap without Green.

    Regardless of what route the Lakers need to go, the general structure remains the same: If they can cough up the No. 28 pick and another asset without straining Oklahoma City's cap sheet or roster space, a Gallo sign-and-trade should be within the realm of possibility.

CP3 to the Lakers for Friendship Reasons

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Chris Paul

    Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: Avery Bradley (player option), Quinn Cook (non-guaranteed), Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee (player option), No. 28 (as an actual salary)

    Some NBA executives believe a Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers sequel is a distinct possibility, according to Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus. His longstanding relationship with LeBron James is enough to give the sentiment traction, even at his tough-to-navigate salary ($41.4 million next season; $44.2 million player option for 2021-22).

    The Lakers will have to hurry if they're at all interested in bringing CP3 back to L.A. The Phoenix Suns are already talking with Oklahoma City, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps and Brian Windhorst, and they make for some pretty stiff, if insurmountable, competition.

    Los Angeles isn't beating Phoenix's best realistic offer in a vacuum. But the Thunder don't want to take back multiyear contracts in any deal, according to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM's John Gambadoro. That works in service of the Lakers, who essentially have only expiring pacts to offer. At the very least, it puts pressure on the Suns to reroute Ricky Rubio and the two years left on his contract to another team. Paul can also help the cause by suddenly becoming allergic to semi-arid climates.

    Even then, though, the Lakers still have to clear a number of logistical hurdles. Chief among them: Putting together enough salary to take back Paul.

    That prospective framework is basically etched in stone. The Lakers have to guarantee Quinn Cook's $3 million salary and need Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee to opt in. They can then tack on Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and the No. 28 pick as an actual salary 30 days after he puts pen to paper on his rookie contract.

    Certain contents of this package make sense for OKC. Bradley and Green don't fit a gradual timeline, but they're three-and-D wings who can potentially be relocated for other assets. Kuzma has become a passable enough defender to warrant wondering what he looks like if given more ball-handling responsibilities at the other end, and the Thunder have the flexibility to float his next deal should his first season go off without a hitch.

    Another late first-rounder won't mean much to a team that can have as many as 15 over the next seven drafts, but Oklahoma City only owns one top-30 pick in this year's class. It can stand to add a cost-controlled prospect in the interim.

    With all this in mind, a six-for-one swap is objectively laughable. This deal saves the Thunder more than $45 million over the next two seasons, but they'd be cursing next year's roster flexibility straight to hell by taking on so many bodies.

    Soliciting third- and fourth-team facilitators to absorb some of the spare parts is non-negotiable. Many of the Lakers' outbound salaries are small enough that this shouldn't be a gargantuan issue. Both Bradley and Green could interest any of the cap-space teams—most notably Atlanta, but also Miami, depending on what happens with Jae Crowder and Goran Dragic. Would Minnesota do James Johnson and No. 17 for Bradley and Green? Would OKC throw in No. 25 if need be?

    Lining up helpers is a secondary problem. The Lakers need to be more concerned about competing offers. Viewed through a long-term lens, they're effectively offering No. 28, cap relief and an about-to-be-paid Kuzma. That's not a terrible return for the Thunder, roster crunch aside, considering Paul is owed $85.6 million over the next two years. It's also a beatable bounty. Beyond third- and fourth-party assists, the Lakers likely need the Suns, among other possible suitors (New York?), to bow out.

LA Rolls the Dice on Russ

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Russell Westbrook, 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protection; immediately turns into two seconds if not conveyed)

    Houston Rockets Receive: Avery Bradley (player option), Quinn Cook (non-guaranteed), Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee (player option), No. 28 (as an actual salary)

    Citing a "desire to return to his previous floor-general role in Oklahoma City," sources told The Athletic's Shams Charania that Russell Westbrook wants out of Houston after one season. I'll allow you a moment to let this hilarious disasterpiece sink in.

    If Rockets governor Tilman Fertitta thought Chris Paul's contract was tough to move, he better strap in now. Westbrook has three years and $132.6 million left on his deal, rendering him a net-negative asset in most situations. That's not meant to downplay his stardom. His impact is merely limited when he's not afforded monopoly control over the offense.

    Whether the Lakers offer a better on-court fit is debatable. LeBron James is their alpha ball-handler, and that's not changing. But Westbrook is capable of playing beside another orchestrator. His time off the rock just needs to be limited. The Lakers can stagger his minutes from LeBron, who's also capable of being used in ways Harden could not when they play together. Imagine him screening for Russ, provided L.A. has enough shooting around them.

    This scenario runs into the same hangups of any Paul pursuit. The Lakers need to send out a handful of players to make the money work, and that's assuming they get cooperation from Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee, both of whom must opt into the final year of their deals.

    Spinning a six-for-one swap is at least easier for the Rockets than the Thunder. Other trades will need to be lined up for the sake of roster flexibility, but they'd be unloading one of the league's hardest-to-move contracts. This exact framework saves them $95 million-plus over the next three years, relative to the money left on Westbrook's deal. Also: Bradley, Green and Kuzma help them remain competitive next season.

    Los Angeles is the side that needs something more. It's assuming not only the risk of Westbrook's price point, but also his fit beside Davis and James. General manager Rob Pelinka should do his damnedest to target a 2022 pick swap. That draft class could include both college freshmen and high school seniors, and who knows where the Rockets will be at the end of the 2021-22 campaign? If a James Harden trade follows a Westbrook blockbuster, the Lakers could have a high lottery selection on their hands.

    Houston would do well to avoid that nightmare outcome. Trading its 2022 pick outright with top-10 protection seems like a good middle ground. It safeguards the Rockets against disaster and divests into two seconds should the worst play out, but it also gives the Lakers an asset to sweeten up other deals.

Victor Oladipo Heads to Hollywood

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers Receive: TJ Leaf, Victor Oladipo

    Indiana Pacers Receive: Alex Caruso, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, No. 28 (as an actual salary)

    Victor Oladipo's trade value is all over the place.

    On the one hand, he's shown he has an All-NBA ceiling, and his $21 million salary is extremely easy to match in trade talks. On the other hand, he is two years removed from his 2017-18 breakout, has yet to regain form following his right quad injury and will enter free agency in 2021.

    Uncertainty currently wins out. Oladipo has spent most of his career outside the All-Star spectrum and is about to command a hefty multiyear contract. Potential suitors aren't mortgaging their future for him.

    That's incentive enough for the Indiana Pacers to hold serve. His value could climb if he reboots his stock heading into the 2021 trade deadline. Barring a Godfather offer now, they might as well try to bank some extra victories and reevaluate his future in a few months' time.

    Alex Caruso, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and the No. 28 pick might not be enough for the Pacers to rethink that stance. Three of these players will need new deals of their own after next season, and Kuzma, the shiniest asset of the quartet, is fairly redundant with Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Warren on the roster. The Pacers can try using him exclusively as a wing—his defense has improved enough for them to try—but he's a comfier fit if they move off Sabonis or Myles Turner and open up more minutes at the 4 spot.

    The Lakers can up the ante by including a 2022 pick swap. That's close enough for them to view as a bottom-five selection Indiana has no reason to cannibalize but far enough away, with both Oladipo and LeBron James (player option) set to hit free agency in 2021, for the Pacers to bet on a Los Angeles downturn.

    Tossing a pick swap into the fold probably goes a touch too far for the Lakers, unless that allows them to retain one of Caruso, Kuzma or No. 28. They're more beholden to Indiana's feeling a sense of urgency to shop Oladipo at all and being underwhelmed by subsequent offers. And should the—ahem—stars align, this trade structure is respectable, particularly if the Pacers aren't looking to rebuild as part of Oladipo's exit.

The Kyle Lowry Hail Mary

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Kyle Lowry

    Toronto Raptors Receive: Avery Bradley (player option), Alex Caruso, Danny Green, No. 28 (as an actual salary), 2022 first-round pick swap

    First, let's acknowledge that Kyle Lowry is the least available option among this group. The Toronto Raptors came one win shy of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance this past season. Running it back should be the expectation.

    Lowry's name only enters the equation if the Raptors pivot into a gap year and don't think they need him to help recruit Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021. That's not an impossible scenario. Three of Toronto's best players are hitting the open market—Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet—and team president Masai Ujiri might be keener on a wholesale shakeup if Giannis signs a supermax extension with the Milwaukee Bucks.

    In the event Lowry is gettable, the Lakers will again need the market to break in their favor. Dirty-work extraordinaire Alex Caruso and the No. 28 pick are bound to interest a Raptors squad that is loading up on assets, but they're difficult sells as centerpieces. Lowry isn't your typical 34-year-old. He's still an All-NBA candidate.

    Kyle Kuzma can be added to the package if Toronto is smitten, but Caruso's next deal figures to be far more palatable than his. A 2022 pick swap feels more like the Raptors' speed. At bottom, they don't use it. At best, Lowry and LeBron start to decline or leave L.A. altogether and give Toronto a chance to skyrocket up the draft board.

    Including Avery Bradley, who has to opt in, and Danny Green (reunion!) boosts the Lakers' chances if the Raptors are straddling some sort of middle ground. Maybe they re-sign VanVleet long-term but lose Gasol and Ibaka and don't profile as contenders. Capitalizing on Lowry's value without sending their win-loss stock into a tailspin would have its advantages.

    The Lakers might consider this asking price too steep. They shouldn't. Lowry is an ideal fit beside LeBron and Anthony Davis, someone who can stroke spot-up threes and set screens but also pilot the offense on his own. That he comes off the books in 2021 is similarly convenient. LeBron has a player option for 2021-22, and though the Lakers won't be max-contract-ready without renouncing both, it does open the door for scenarios in which they re-sign for less to facilitate the arrival of someone else.

              

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.

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