Last Thursday, the trade deadline sent the NBA into a frenzy. Most notably, the Cleveland Cavaliers completed a near-complete roster overhaul that hasn’t been seen in recent memory, especially for a team competing for a championship. In an effort to secure LeBron James’ fourth ring, the Cavs unloaded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, and their 2018 first round pick. In return, they received George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, Jr. These moves were an attempt to fix the Cavs’ recent ice-cold streak and a rumored toxic locker room environment. The media lost its mind over these trades, and has been debating whether or not the Cavaliers are better or worse in the aftermath. Lost in the Cleveland drama, however, is the near future of the Los Angeles Lakers following the trade deadline.
The Lakers shipped out Clarkson and Nance, and picked up Thomas, Frye, and the 2018 pick. Despite the organization’s big name, the deal did not garner as much attention as it deserved, amidst the Lakers’ lackluster 23-32 season. The trade sets the Lakers up for great success in the immediate future, and a return to legitimate relevancy.
Clarkson and Nance, both 25 years old, were integral pieces of the team and fan favorites. Both were averaging over 20 minutes per game this season and had made considerable contributions, yet their departure leaves the Lakers in a better spot. From 2018-2020, Clarkson is owed over $25 million dollars, which would have taken up crucial cap space that the Lakers intend to use on big name free agents. And, despite Clarkson and Nance’s input, it has been said that they were not in the Lakers’ long term plans.
The Lakers had already traded away their own first round pick for this year’s draft, so getting one back was important, even if the Cavs’ pick will be much later than their own. After the Lakers’ late-round steals of Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma, maybe they can find another treasure late in the first round.
Now, at first glance, some may scratch their heads at the acquisitions of Thomas and Frye. Thomas struggled in his brief stint in Cleveland; last year’s elite scorer was shooting field goals at an abysmal 36.1% clip, and 3-pointers at 25.3%. Once a serviceable big man, Frye had averaged just 4.8 points and 2.5 rebounds this season. Both of their contracts will expire at the end of this season, so why would the Lakers want them? First of all, this contract situation is best for the Lakers. Like Clarkson and Nance, they don’t figure to work into the Lakers’ future, but a combined $13 million or so will be off the books at this season’s end. Next, they could be valuable in mentoring the Lakers’ young core. The Lakers have been without a veteran point guard all year, and though he has a much different play-style, Thomas has loads of knowledge that could help rookies Lonzo Ball and Hart. Though Frye has never been as dominant as IT, he can do the same for young forwards Julius Randle and Kuzma.
Furthermore, Thomas will make the Lakers a much better team this year. He still isn’t completely recovered from the hip injury he sustained in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, but if he gets his legs back, we could see more of the man that averaged 28.9 points per game just a year ago. Despite the team’s mediocre record, they are on a 12-5 run that includes wins over the Thunder, Spurs, and Celtics. With the continued development of youngsters like Hart, Ball, Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers could finish the season on a high note, making themselves a more attractive destination for free agents.
While the LeBron-to-LA rumors are sketchy at best, there is a serious possibility that Paul George could come to the Lakers this coming offseason, especially after opening up some cap space with the Cavs trade. A lot of that depends on how this season ends for the Oklahoma City Thunder, as George has expressed satisfaction with his time there thus far. However, Los Angeles would be an ideal destination for him. George grew up a Kobe and Lakers fan, and his family is in LA. It may mean nothing, but in January he said, “I would have loved to go back home and play for my city,” when asked about his trade to OKC.
The Lakers will surely make a hard push for George, but if that doesn’t work out, there are plenty of other options over the next couple of offseasons. In the 2018 offseason, DeMarcus Cousins and Chris Paul are free agents, and in 2019 Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan, and Kemba Walker are available.
Magic Johnson has already made it clear that they will be making strong pushes for superstar free agents. Whether or not they get the aforementioned big names they want, they have the cap space to take on contracts for impactful players through free agency or trades. In addition, their current roster will continue to blossom. Despite all the criticism Lonzo has received, he will develop to be an effective point guard. He has already shown flashes of greatness, and Kuzma, Ingram, and Hart have proven that they can contribute in big ways. Don’t look now, but they’ve got what it takes to propel the Lakers back to relevancy.
And with the Clippers and Pelicans losing Griffin and Cousins, maybe the Lakers can even make a late push for the 8 seed.