The first domino in the Lakers’ offseason is Thursday’s NBA Draft, where Los Angeles will have a crucial opportunity to strengthen their roster ahead of free agency.
The Lakers have picks Nos. 17 and 47, but there’s been growing buzz in recent days that the Lakers will, more likely than not, trade their pick, whether it’s moving up, down or out of the draft altogether, more keep sources not authorized to speak publicly told Athletics.
What are their different options? Let’s see.
1. Keep pick #17
A few weeks ago, the Lakers were leaning towards keeping their pick. But there has been growing buzz in recent days that the Lakers are now more likely to make their selection to take advantage of a golden opportunity to improve the draft night draft, these team sources said.
In the scenario where they sit at No. 17, the Lakers’ decades-long track record suggests they will find a useful player. The Lakers’ scouting department, led by assistant general manager and co-owner Jesse Buss, and vice president of research and development and co-owner Joey Buss, is one of the best in the league. They have found underrated talent at every point in the draft.
It’s a delicate balance, but the Lakers could potentially find a player who can contribute immediately but also develop into a core in the future. They’ve been consistently linked to five names in recent weeks: Kobe Bufkin, Dereck Lively II, Jett Howard, Nick Smith Jr. and Noah Clowney. All five players are projected to go anywhere from the No. 10 pick to the early 20s. Howard, the 6-foot-7 Michigan wing, is projected to go No. 17 in Sam Vecenie’s latest mock draft for Athletics.
2. Combine the pick with salary filler to upgrade the rotation
The Lakers have until June 29 to decide whether to exercise Malik Beasley’s $16.5 million team option and guarantee Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million non-guaranteed contract. The primary value in exercising Beasley’s option and guaranteeing Bamba’s salary, aside from potentially keeping one or both players, is trading the two players and their combined $26.8 million in salary for another rotation player or two. Ideally, such a trade would provide a starter who can seamlessly plug in next to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves, a restricted free agent the Lakers expect to retain.
(Although there has been no formal announcement yet, the Lakers continue to operate as if James will be back next season, despite hinting at the possibility of retirement in a news conference following the Lakers’ season-ending Game 4 loss to Denver in West Finals.)
The scope of a deal would likely involve Beasley, Bamba and the No. 17 pick being traded for a starter-level player. The Lakers could also execute a smaller deal with just one of Beasley or Bamba, plus, potentially, the pick. Names around the league that have been linked to the Lakers in recent weeks include Indiana’s Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, Brooklyn’s Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale, Toronto’s Gary Trent Jr. and Washington’s Kristaps Porziņģis, according to multiple non-authorized league sources. to speak in public.
If the Lakers make a trade on draft night, it may signal that they are once again using “pre-agency” — a term Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka coined at the trade deadline — rather than retaining some of their own free agents. The salaries for James, Davis, whoever they get back from a Beasley and Bamba deal, Jarred Vanderbilt (the Lakers will guarantee his $4.6 million contract) and Max Christie add up to about $120 million. That’s before factoring in the likely re-signings of Reaves and Rui Hachimura (expected to be another $26 to $30 million in salary next season), and the potential re-signings of D’Angelo Russell, Dennis Schröder and Lonnie Walker IV.
In an instant, the Lakers’ payroll could surpass $170 million with just eight or nine players on their roster. Add at least four more players, if not five or six, and the Lakers would cross the dreaded second berth line (a projected $179.5 million). While the Lakers will likely have to stay above the luxury tax, if not above the first berth, there are serious downsides to going above the second berth on top of the extra cost per player. dollar.
One way the Lakers could lower their tax bill is to replace Russell, who is expected to earn $20 million annually, with Chris Paul on a veteran’s minimum contract (about $3.0 million). But Paul is being traded to the Washington Wizards in a two-team trade that is not yet official and could be expanded to a third team, potentially complicating his future. The Clippers, whether via trade or free agency, are expected to be a slight favorite to land Paul over the Lakers, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Chris Paul to the Clippers? Why LA is interested and how a trade could be done
This is the most likely outcome if the Lakers are committed to going all-in again, as they did before the 2023 trade deadline.
3. Exchange back into the draft and collect another asset
The difference between options 2 and 3 is that the Lakers would keep a first-round pick in this scenario, albeit at the likely cost of a worse rotation player (perhaps Hield or O’Neale from the aforementioned names) or another draft pick (most ). likely a second-round pick). The scope of this deal would look like Beasley, Bamba and/or No. 17 for a first-round pick in the 20s and another asset (player or pick).
Brooklyn (picks No. 21 and 22) and Indiana (pick No. 26) are two obvious trade partners with whom the Lakers have previously discussed several deals over the past year.
Over the years, the Lakers have identified multiple first round steals in multiple drafts. Realistically, whoever the Lakers draft is an uncertain bet to crack the rotation on a struggling team. Trading back and recovering assets could be the smartest approach that walks the line between prioritizing the present and the future.
4. Change up the draft
Trading up would be a bit of a chore, as the Lakers would prioritize the franchise’s future over the current one-to-two-year window of the James-Davis core unless they’re incredibly confident that said player can contribute right away . The scope of this deal will likely be Beasley, Bamba, No. 17 and another asset — teams will also ask for Christie, even if the Lakers aren’t interested in including him in any deals — in exchange for a lottery pick and matching salary, as a team trying to lose.
There are several reasons why a potential Lakers trade partner might be interested in trading down. They could be an over-the-cap team that views Beasley and/or Bamba as rotation-level players they can’t acquire in free agency. They could have a rough long-term cap sheet and see this as a chance to force the Lakers to take back a contract they’re trying to dump (either a long-term deal or a hideous contract). They could be interested in one of the Lakers’ future draft assets (a protected first pick, another second round pick, etc.).
The benefit of trading up is locking up one of the prospects the Lakers have coveted. Bufkin and Lively are two names to watch, according to a team source not authorized to speak publicly about the Lakers’ draft board.
This is the least likely of the scenarios, but it is certainly possible.
5. Draft a player at No. 17 … with plans to trade him later
The Lakers showed patience with the Russell Westbrook situation last season, waiting until they felt they had the perfect deal before the trade deadline instead of moving him earlier in the season. They could do something similar with this pick, using the player they acquire in a trade later this summer or even during the season to upgrade the roster.
The Lakers could technically bring Bamba and Beasley into the season — with a temporarily expensive cap sheet — and then trade one or both in the middle of the year as different opportunities arise. They could also resign Russell and trade him closer to the trade deadline if a point guard upgrade is available or there is a lingering effect of Russell’s poor Western Conference Finals performance.
This approach runs the risk of the pick’s trade value decreasing somewhat, as rival teams often prefer to trade for a pick on draft night and even make the pick themselves rather than take another team’s pick. But a patient approach to their roster building could pay off again.
(Top photo by Rob Pelinka: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)