Even though the playoffs are in full swing, with only 4 teams left competing for the championship this truly is the off-season for most of the league. And with that we are at the point where the maneuvering and jockeying into positions to upgrade rosters are also in full swing.
The draft lottery just took place, the combine is taking place in Chicago, teams are holding draft workouts, and…well, rumors of what teams will or won’t do are starting to take root. Including for the Lakers. In a recent report from Tania Ganguli of the LA Times, she tells us that the Lakers young players that many fans hope are off-limits are actually not so untouchable. Well, at least kind of not.
I’ll let her explain:
While they like their young core and would prefer to keep those players growing together, they have told teams no player is untouchable in trades, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade and free-agent negotiations.
To be clear, the Lakers are not actively shopping any of their players. They are willing to listen to offers and could move one of them — even a member of the talented young cadre of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart — if an offer blows them away.
While that second paragraph is probably the bigger takeaway, don’t be surprised when people run with the first one. After all, people love trades, they know the Lakers are actively looking to improve their roster for next season (and beyond), and the machinations of how that occurs can take many forms — especially when you consider elite players don’t often sign up to play for a new team without players they see as peers among the ranks of guys they’ll be joining.
No matter what we think of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart (or even restricted free agent Julius Randle), elite players around the league are not likely to see them as peers at this stage of those guys’ young careers.
Still, though, go back to that second ‘graf and take a deep breath.
The Lakers seem to understand they are in a pretty sweet position. They have cap space to sign at least one top-tier free agent and have multiple paths to be able to sign a second one — including one which allows them to keep Randle, not trade any of the aforementioned young players, and have enough cap space to sign two max guys. They also know they can roll over cap space to next season and, based on the progress and development arcs of their young core, still bank on improvement from within.
So, sure, there are scenarios where the Lakers swap out one or more of their young players. I just don’t see any of those as likely unless something incredible comes about. Like, say, two max players coming to the team in free agency and then another max level guy being available in a trade where the Lakers can, say, give up one of their top tier young players (think Lonzo, Ingram, or Kuzma), and either one of their second tier youngsters (Hart) or current/future draft capital (this year’s Cavs pick, next season or a future season’s 1st round pick or future second round picks — like the Bulls 2019 2nd rounder which could be in the early 30’s).
Do I think that scenario is likely? No, no I don’t. But the Lakers need to have all their options open in case that scenario does unfold. Which, basically, is what I think Ganguli is really reporting. No one is off the table. Everyone is available…kind of.