NBA insider reveals Lakers plan for future without D’Angelo Russell

Whether the Los Angeles Lakers will keep D’Angelo Russell in free agency after his disappointing end to the NBA playoffs in the Western Conference finals is one of the biggest questions facing the team this offseason.

There have been plenty of signs that the team might not be all-in on running it back, from rumors that they had tabled extension negotiations with Russell until the postseason, to (admittedly obvious) confirmation that they would not max him, to whispers that the front office might prefer to just use him in a sign-and-trade instead of keeping him.

However, there have also been reports that the Lakers still viewed Russell as a positive presence overall as part of their run, and Russell himself has said he wants to be back. The Lakers could also keep Russell more easily than they could replace him by virtue of having his bird rights, allowing them to go over the cap to re-sign him.

Still, if the Lakers wanted to use Russell’s salary slot to acquire an upgrade, they could theoretically still sign and trade him to his next destination in exchange for either another free agent in a double sign-and-trade or trade him for a player under contract. That Dallas Mavericks has already leaked they have “no interest” in acquiring Russell in a deal for Kyrie Irving, but could the team use him in a trade for another point guard we know LeBron James has a fondness for in Chris Paul?

It is unclear, but while writes about the situation facing Paul and the Phoenix Suns ahead of his June 28 guarantee dateJake Fischer by Yahoo Sports connected some dots between the two sides, as well as reporting that the Lakers are already looking at sign-and-trade scenarios for Russell (emphasis mine):

Would Phoenix take Russell for Paul? The Suns had discussions with the Timberwolves about Russell prior to the trade deadline, sources told Yahoo Sports before Minnesota found a new home for him with the Lakers. Phoenix also coveted Wolves center Naz Reid in trade talks, sources said.

Russell is known to be close friends with Booker. Plus, the Lakers are said to be exploring similar sign-and-trade options with Russell. For Los Angeles and Phoenix, losing Russell in free agency or waiving Paul would sacrifice a $30 million salary cap that feels all the more valuable while staring down a scary new tax apron in the league’s upcoming collective bargaining agreement. These decisions shouldn’t be made on a whim, which is why Phoenix and Paul have begun discussing various alternatives about three weeks before free agency begins.

From the moment it was reported, Chris Paul would be waived (but also maybe not?) of the Suns, it has been obvious to link him to the Lakers for one more time in his career since The Veto. As Fischer noted, Paul’s family is still based in Los Angeles, and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on television this week that Paul would be “coveted” by both teams in the city.

However, using Russell in a sign-and-trade for Paul would be complicated. First, the Lakers couldn’t do it until after Paul’s contract guarantees, which would require a massive level of confidence on the part of the Suns that this deal would come together, a level of confidence that could actually also violate the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, given that Russell is a free agent and cannot legally accept a contract with the Suns until June 30, when free agency begins at the earliest (two days after Paul’s contract becomes guaranteed).

Any reports that the Lakers and Suns have agreed to such a deal involving Russell before could result in tampering penalties equal to the one the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat faced based on how quickly their sign-and-trade deals with Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry respectively leaked in 2021, which could cost the Suns a whole other pick *gasp*. Bucks faced similar consequences (and the inability to sign the player they wanted) when their own sign-and-trade with Bogdan Bogdanovic leaked early the year before.

Long story short, if the Suns, Lakers and Russell and his camp actually wanted to do this, they better use burner phones and put their asses in front of NBA insiders. Even then, the league may be sniffing around given how widely it is expected that the Suns will just waive Paul.

But while that specific scenario might be unlikely for such logistical reasons, this is now another rumbling that indicates the Lakers appear to be rather unenthusiastic about the idea of ​​a Russell reunion. So while Paul and Irving might be off the table to replace his cap slot, it still wouldn’t be surprising at this point to see the Lakers try to help Russell get to a destination of his choice in exchange for some different players or a trade exception.

But given the lack of teams desperate for a point guard who could outbid the Lakers, it still feels like Russell will likely be back at a discount and then immediately dangled as salary ballast at the next trade deadline. But all of these whispers indicate that the team might prefer to replace him sooner rather than later. That makes them, like many of their fans, who also watched the conference finals, but is nonetheless remarkable.

You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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