With the news last week that NBA star Kawhi Leonard reportedly desiring a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, fans of purple and gold began seeing visions of Leonard alongside LeBron James and Paul George, a fantasy that once seemed impossible.
However, regardless of Vegas odds, the Lakers are a likely longshot to land Leonard for a multitude of reasons, ranging from teams like Boston and Philadelphia likely able to piece together better packages and the Spurs likely unwilling to send Leonard to the Lakers, particularly if Los Angeles lands James and George, potentially allowing them to form another super team.
Under the assumption the Lakers land James and George, though, it’s safe to assume Luol Deng and his $36 million will be sent out at whatever cost to acquire viable, win-now talent to put next to the duo.
While his albatross contract will make it pricey to move, it does open up some intriguing non-Leonard trades should the Lakers explore the market, which they almost certainly will.
It’s also quite tricky to find trade partners. While there are teams like the Raptors who might be looking to change things up by moving players out (see: DeMar DeRozan), in a scenario in which James is leaving the Eastern Conference, Toronto will likely be unwilling to break up the team.
Same goes for a team like Washington who might entertain the idea of splitting up the Bradley Beal/John Wall backcourt should James stay in the Eastern Conference but not if he comes out West.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some potential trade targets the Lakers could go after.
What trade might look like: Luol Deng, Lonzo Ball for Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams.
Why Lakers do it: Because of his remarkably affordable contract – $12 million next season – Kemba Walker could be the most talked-about name on the trade market through this off-season and into the season until he is dealt. As good as Lonzo Ball might become and as good of a fit as he would be next to James and George, he’s still a 20-year old point guard.
Moving him out to bring in a proven, veteran guard like Kemba Walker could very likely be the move the Lakers make. Walker is entering the final year of his deal, but maintaining his bird rights will mean the Lakers should have a core of James-George-Walker for the foreseeable future.
Adding Marvin Williams gives the Lakers a 3-and-D wing-type who would slot in nicely next to two superstars. At $14 million this season with a $15 million option next, Williams doesn’t break the bank for the future, either.
Why Hornets do it: The Hornets are nowhere near competing, have a new front office and coaching staff and have a bunch of bad contracts with few assets. Not only will the Hornets look to deal Kemba Walker, they’ll look to attach a bad contract with him. They would like to ship out Nicolas Batum, but his contract is horrendously bad.
Cody Zeller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make sense to potentially ship out, but both are younger players who could come at a higher price if the Hornets do make them available.
Getting Ball gives them a face of the rebuild along with Malik Monk and this season’s draft pick. A Ball-Monk-Miles Bridges-MKG-Zeller lineup could be promising for the future.
What trade might look like: Luol Deng, 2019 first rounder, 2019 Chicago second-rounder for Wesley Matthews
Why Lakers do it: With the NBA shifting to an era of wings and 3-and-D players, Wesley Matthews fits the bill perfectly. While he’s hardly the player he once was, he’s still a serviceable veteran.
Over the last three seasons, Matthews has played 78, 73 and 63 games and has shot 36.7 percent from three. He’s also an expiring contract and proves the Lakers future salary cap relief heading into the summer of 2019.
Why the Mavericks do it: On a rebuilding team, Matthews serves little purpose for the Mavericks moving forward. Dallas will likely heavily shop him this summer to a team that is in a win-now mode.
Deng and Matthews make a nearly identical amount of money this season with Deng having another year on his deal. The price to add another year’s salary when the Mavericks aren’t going to be competitive is a first-rounder for next year and Chicago’s second, which will be a very high second-round pick.
CJ McCollum/Damian Lillard
What trade might look like: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Luol Deng, 2019 first rounder for Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu
Why Lakers do it: Well, it doesn’t require much explanation. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are All-Star level players. Acquiring them would come at a high, high cost, but would also elevate the team to another level. Pairing either with George or James makes the Lakers a title contender.
The Trailblazers may look to dump additional salary on the Lakers which could be tricky because the Lakers don’t have much room for extra salary. If they settle on Al-Farouq Aminu, he’s a perfect modern forward to play with ball-dominant superstars.
Why Blazers do it: The Blazers only do this deal if they think that
- The Lillard-McCollum partnership won’t work long-term
- They determine they can’t contend moving forward
If they come to both of those conclusions, then the Lakers should swoop in. Dumping one of them for a pair of future wings and draft picks gives them more versatility in the future and allows which of McCollum or Lillard is left to be the primary on-ball player.
The math is tight and the Blazers won’t be able to shed much salary which could lead to a third team joining the deal, but it ultimately puts them in a better place for the future.
What trade might look like: Luol Deng, Kyle Kuzma, 2019 first rounder for Kevin Love
Why Lakers do it: The Lakers and Kevin Love have been linked for seemingly a decade now. Love is from the west coast and went to school at UCLA, so the connection makes sense. The timing, though, never has. The Lakers have never been in a win-now position and Love has always been a win-now player.
There’s perhaps no superstar more comfortable playing next to James than Love, who has done it for four years. While the fit has been weird at times, the two have had success. Perhaps Luke Walton can get more out of Love than Ty Lue or David Blatt ever did.
Why the Cavaliers do it: I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that if LeBron James leaves this summer, Cleveland enters a full rebuild. They might be able to get a better deal elsewhere where they can unload one of their dozens of terrible contracts, but landing Kuzma and a pick while shedding $14 million in salary of the same span of time isn’t a terrible deal.