The Lakers’ plan to pursue max level free agents is well known. What’s also well known is the Lakers do not actually have the cap space to sign the two superstars they’d like to ink to deals. This means they’ll need to dump salary between now and next July 1st — something the current players on the team are more than aware of, but I digress.
In any event, with the trade deadline a little more than a month away, the first period where the Lakers can make a move is coming up quickly. Will the Lakers actually make a move? If so, which player(s) are they looking to unload? Well, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski the Lakers are looking to be sellers at the deadline and while a couple of the names are familiar, one of them is not:
The Los Angeles Lakers, needing to shed salary for summer free agency, had been hopeful of waiting until the end of the season to move Jordan Clarkson — owed $26 million beyond this season — but there’s a mutual desire to find something sooner than later. The Lakers have made it clear that Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance are available.
First things first, that unloading Clarkson is being framed as a mutual desire is a new development. While Clarkson has not been shy about showing shades of discontent this season, as his role and playing time has fluctuated, him seemingly wanting out wasn’t previously reported. It makes sense, to be sure, that he’d read the writing on the wall and want a new home sooner than later since the Lakers are likely to move on from him anyway. Still, though, him or his representation seemingly making it known he’d embrace a move is new.
Also new is Nance’s name being floated as available. While I never saw Nance as untouchable, I always envisioned him as someone this FO wanted to keep around for the long term. He’s a nice, low usage role player who still has a year beyond this one on his rookie contract and has shown some adaptability recently to play both PF and C in certain matchups. These types of players have value on really good teams and, considering that’s exactly what Magic and Pelinka are trying to build, it makes sense to keep him around. Seems, though, that the Lakers are willing to move on from him if the right deal comes along.
What’s not new is Randle’s name being mentioned. We all know Julius’ restricted free agent status this summer complicates his value and his cap hold could be a hindrance to signing the FA’s the team seeks. Further, of all the current Lakers, Randle’s the one whose role has been most disconnected from his level of production. While Randle is now a starter, it took over 30 games for that to be the case even though he’d he’d shown defensive versatility and improved offensive approach (less isolations and post ups, more cutting and assisted finishes, better finishing around the basket).
So, the Lakers are willing to move on from these players, but will they be able to? I have my doubts.
Not because these guys aren’t good players who can’t be traded (anyone can be traded), but more because of the factors surrounding the team leading up to the deadline.
First, as Woj’s report lays out, the Lakers are sellers. If he knows this, you better believe the other teams around the league do too. As I stated at the top of this piece, everyone knows the Lakers plans and everyone knows the only way for them to accomplish their goal is to get out from under salary commitments for the 2018-19 season and beyond.
Other teams knowing this inherently means the team is operating from a weaker position in negotiations and teams can (and should) play hardball with them to extract the most they can from the Lakers while surrendering as little as possible.
Knowing this, then, the Lakers are surely not going to simply make a deal now when they really do not have to. The February deadline is the first opportunity for the Lakers to make a move but it is not their only one. Nor is it their only recourse for getting out from under the contracts they’re open to moving.
Trades can always happen around the draft or even into July during the FA period if necessary. Clarkson and Nance are under contract for next year so the Lakers control their rights for trades through the deadline and after the season ends.
As for Randle, his RFA status means the team can simply renounce the qualifying offer they’ll give him and his cap number will fall off the books. This isn’t the ideal way to handle his situation from an asset management perspective, but if the end goal is to simply clear his salary this approach works just as well as a trade.
All that said, I wonder whether the Lakers have to make a trade at this point. Both Randle and Clarkson have to feel they’re very unlikely to be on the team next year. This can impact the team dynamic and, potentially, poison the well when it comes to their buy-in between now and the end of this season.
Of course, the hope is that everyone will remain professional and compete nightly because it’s their job. But that’s also an overly simplistic way of looking at things. I don’t know if you’ve ever been unhappy in a job, but if you have and been able to still work like you were totally happy, bravo to you. I’d bet that’s not the norm, though, and I’m sure it’s not the case for all professional athletes.
In any event, the Lakers FO is to blame for how this all will play out between now and the trade deadline and then through the end of the season. They’ve let their future plans be known and anyone with a calculator can do the math on what that means for this year’s team and the moves that they’ll want to make.
The only hope is that Magic and Pelinka will be good enough at their jobs that none of that will matter and they’ll still be able accomplish everything they want to get done. And if that’s the case, they’ll deserve some credit even if the path to the finish line wasn’t the most ideal one.