With NBA Draft hurdling June 22, the Lakers will likely continue to find themselves in the rumor mill until their selection is made.
Fresh off their berth in the Western Conference Finals, the team finds itself in the precarious position of trying to maintain the continuity that helped guide their deep postseason run while also trying to upgrade their roster.
Their best shot at achieving the latter will likely have to happen on draft night. With the 17th and 47th picks at their disposal, draft capital will have the most value before Thursday.
In terms of other trade avenues, the Lakers also have Malik Beasley’s and Mo Bamba’s contracts to match money in a deal to bolster their depth. They have until the 29th of this month to pick up Beasley’s $16.5 million contract for the upcoming season. They must also make a decision on whether to fully guarantee Bamba’s $10.3 million on the same date.
The combination of their picks and the potential flexibility of those contracts could lead to some creative options for the front office to exploit. And if the latest rumblings are to be believed, that may indeed be the case.
According to Jovan Buha of the Athletic, there is a “growing possibility” that the Lakers could make a move on draft night by using their first-round pick along with Beasley and/or Bamba to find a “starter-level upgrade.”
On the theory that the Lakers are trying to go this route, let’s take a look at some options they could pursue that could fit the upgrade while keeping their core intact.
The Lakers receive: Royce O’Neale, No. 21 and a future runner-up
Nets receive: Mo Bamba and the No. 17 pick
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Why the Lakers are doing it: After their deep playoff push, the Lakers will likely operate under the belief that their title window is still open. And like almost every other team in the league, they could be in the market for a reliable 3-and-D wing to help bolster their chances.
With the free-agent statuses of Lonnie Walker, Troy Brown Jr and the aforementioned Malik Beasley up in the air, the Lakers could quickly find themselves short on the edge. He won’t be the sexiest name to be floated in mock trades in the coming days, but Royce O’Neale might help fill that void.
Although he has seen some slippage since his underrated tenure with the Jazz, O’Neale remains a versatile defender, floor spacer and ironman at his position.
Standing at 6’6 and with a 6’9″ wingspan, O’Neale can play up a bit thanks to his sturdy frame, which could help relieve some of the defensive pressure on the team’s perimeter players.
Offensively, O’Neale could also bring value to Los Angeles as he continues to be a reliable and willing shooter in his role. According to Cleaning the glass68% (career high) of his shot attempts came from behind the arc this year with Brooklyn. He made 39% of his opportunities and has yet to have a 3-point conversion rate lower than 38%
While health is never certain, O’Neale can also offer the benefit of availability to a roster that has been riddled with injuries in recent years. The 30-year-old has not played in fewer than 71 games since the 2017-18 season.
Why the Nets are doing it: From Brooklyn’s perspective, this trade could help facilitate two goals: 1) they move up in the draft by potentially only using one of their two first-rounders this year with a player they may have given up reducing their tax bill. 2) They thin what is already one crowded and soon very expensive wing group.
With Bamba, the Nets also get a flyer on a still only 25-year-old who may finally find his footing in a new environment. And if not, they simply let his deal expire at the end of the year.
The Lakers receive: Buddy Hield, No. 26 and No. 32
Pacers receive: Malik Beasley and No. 17
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Why the Lakers are doing it: It’s been no secret that the Lakers’ front office has coveted Buddy Hield over the years. Since his time with the Kings and most recently with the Pacers, the sharpshooter has been linked to Los Angeles in what seems like a now annual tradition.
After shooting just 33.5% from three in the postseason and seeing opponents actively leave some of their players open, it’s clear the Lakers are still looking for a more reliable shooting threat. This is one area where Hield continues to be among the league’s best.
The former Rob Pelinka client made an otherworldly 43% of his 670 attempts from deep with Indiana this season, as well as a career-high 60% effective field-goal percentage.
His ability to not only generate perimeter gravity, but also much-needed shooting moves, would greatly add wrinkles and space to the Lakers’ offense.
With Hield’s contract expiring and his clear limitations on defense, the Lakers should also be able to recoup some first-round capital in the deal to soften the blow of parting with their pick. According to recent reports, they have already explored scenarios for trade.
Why the Pacers are doing it: While that sounds good in theory, the Pacers have arguably done it also many picks in this year’s draft. With five current picks at their disposal (7, 26, 29, 32 and 55) and 12 guaranteed contracts already on their books, it’s safe to assume the team will be aggressive in consolidating picks and players.
Obviously, it’s not the level of shooter Hield is, Beasley can approximate his shooting closet enough to fill the hole Hield will leave in the Pacers’ offense.
A deal also helps pave the way for more minutes for the likes of Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard and Chris Duarte. And with another crop of young players expected on top of that, working with the Lakers on a deal could finally benefit the Pacers.
The Lakers receive: Gary Trent Jr and a future second
Birds of prey receive: Malik Beasley, Shaq Harrison and No. 17
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Why the Lakers are doing it: Of the possibilities listed so far, this one feels the most unlikely for a couple of reasons.
Since Gary Trent Jr has a player option (must decide before the draft), he will have to sign up to help facilitate a trade unless a sign-and-trade is in the works. But given that the latter would immediately hardcap the Lakers, the former feels like the preferred route. However, it must be negotiated with all parties before execution.
If — and it’s a big if — a deal is agreed upon, Trent makes a lot of stylistic sense for Los Angeles.
With good size at his position, the combo guard/wing has shown he can be strong on defense when committed. On offense, his off-ball scoring ability would be a nice addition to whoever he shares the floor or backcourt with this season.
According to league tracking data, Trent made 40.5% of his catch-and-shoot threes this season with the Raptors. The Lakers, by comparison, rank 19th in the league, shooting just 36.2% as a team.
The team has also already been linked to Trent several times in the past and it is always worth noting that he is represented by Klutch.
There are aspects the Lakers need to be weary of before considering a move. Given the new CBA’s cap space restrictions, there will be a risk of losing Trent for nothing in a year. Or the team will face costly consequences if they try to keep Trent along with their own free agents this summer. On the field, the team should also factor in/project how he might fare in a playoff setting and assess whether the trade is worth making.
That said, given their short- and long-term plans, there is definite appeal in adding another young player to their core who could also help immediately.
Why the Raptors are doing it: Toronto may be the most volatile team of the offseason. Internally, they must navigate the future of not only Trent, but also Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
Whether they decide to blow it or stay the course will ultimately depend on whether they can retain the services of Siakam and Anunoby — both of whom could potentially be entering the final years of their deals.
The team then likely isn’t in a position where they can lose significant talent for nothing in return. They are on the verge of doing just that with VanVleet and Trent.
Getting a first-round pick for Trent then feels like fair compensation given the alternative. But all parties must work together to make it happen.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.