As the trade deadline came to a close on February 8 at 3 p.m. ET the NBA was filled with interesting transactions. One of the many winners that day was the Los Angeles Lakers. Lakers’ executives traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and a first-round pick. The true brilliance of the trade was not in the players received but in the contracts associated with these players.
Thomas, who is recovering from a hip injury sustained in the 2017 playoffs, has lost a step since his MVP caliber season a year ago. As a 5-9 point guard that is a liability on defense there will be a limited market for him. With the debacle in Cleveland his market may have become even smaller. Thomas and Frye are in the last year of their contracts, with Thomas seeking a max deal this summer. I would not expect the Lakers to resign him this offseason. Expect management to use the available cap space to sign at least two max free agents in 2018 or 2019.
Before diving into the possible signings for the upcoming free agency, light needs to be shed on the first-round pick that Los Angeles acquired. With a first-round pick in possession the front office can package the prospect along with Luol Deng to clear more cap space. Deng signed a 4-year/$72M deal prior to the 2016-2017 season. He has been inactive all year since the opener against the Clippers. To put things in perspective Deng was set to earn $17.2 million next season and $18 million the following two seasons.
The only way another franchise will take on such a contract would be with a first-round pick. Once the season is over I would expect Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to begin shopping for acquisitions. Acquiring expiring contracts can lead to more cap space for the pending free agency. With at least two max contracts available, the Lakers can push for two superstars in the 2018 free agency class. A trade including Luol Deng can make way for a third.
The upcoming free agency class is loaded with superstar talent, the most notable is LeBron James. The entire NBA will do what they can to sign LeBron this summer but only a few teams have been rumored to peak his interest. The Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Cleveland Cavaliers have the best odds at acquiring James this summer. As fans have learned throughout his career in the NBA, they know he wants to win and win now. For organizations other than the Rockets and Spurs there will have to be another top-tier free agent to sign along with him. For the Lakers, this is where Paul George comes into play.
Paul George was traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Oklahoma City Thunder prior to this season. He was not expected to resign with the Pacers due to rumors that he wanted to play for the Lakers. The Pacers followed suit by trading him ensuring that they would get something in return as opposed to being left empty handed.
The stories continue to arise from his camp as it was mentioned that George may exercise his player option for the 2018-2019 season to stay in Oklahoma. If George decides to sign with the Lakers it will make the chances of a LeBron signing that much greater. Without George, it is highly unlikely LeBron considers the Lakers.
Nearly a week before the trade deadline it was reported that the Los Angeles Lakers were going to shift their focus towards the 2019 free agency class. Now with the necessary cap space to become a threat this summer they have reconsidered going after LeBron James. There lies a few more obstacles to overcome before James can be signed. However, as Pelinka and Johnson have shown to this point in their tenure with the Lakers, nothing is impossible.
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