One of the things that seemed to get lost in the shuffle of the Los Angeles Lakers’ trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers is the first-round draft pick LA got back. The headline of the deal was the cap space the Lakers made, but the icing on the cake was the additional draft pick because first-rounders are arguably the most valuable commodity and currency in basketball today and the Lakers did not own one this year.
That pick will most likely end up in the high-teens or low-twenties. With the Lakers recent history of drafting outside of the lottery since 2014, that player, whoever he is, will probably end up as a valuable asset to the team. However, even with that potential positive addition and the lack of their own first-rounder, the Lakers should not be scared to move the draft pick. In fact, if it will help them create additional cap space, they need to move it.
If the Lakers renounce all their non-guaranteed players, they can have up to $70 million in cap space. They would be able to sign two max-contract players. However, that would mean the Lakers losing the depth that they have.
A player like Julius Randle would have to be let go, and with how he has been playing the last two months, it would be tough to see him go. I am of the belief that the Lakers should focus their efforts on just one superstar, re-sign Randle, and sign another quality veteran, or two.
But if the front office does proceed with this strategy, they need to create more cap room to bring back Julius Randle.
Attaching that draft pick to Luol Deng would be a good starting point. Obviously, that would not be enough because it is highly unlikely that the pick will be a lottery one. But if the Cavs continue to struggle, and that pick becomes a top-20 one, it would help.
Attaching another young asset like an Ivica Zubac, a young seven-footer with potential, can sweeten the pot. That most likely will not be enough, but it is an outline of what it would take. If the Lakers can find a bad team with cap room that is willing to strategically use that flexibility by absorbing contracts to acquire draft picks and young players (like the Brooklyn Nets last summer), a deal along this line may work.
The Atlanta Hawks are a terrible team that figures to have payroll flexibility this summer. They also have three first-rounders in the upcoming 2018 draft. Adding a fourth to their collection, along with a young and talented center might be enticing enough for them to take on Luol Deng’s remaining $36.8 million.
They are an awful team so they will conceivably not be able to take advantage of their cap space and sign quality players. And I do not know of any star players that will want to go to a terrible team with no elite young players or great fanbase. Joe Johnson might be the franchise’s biggest free agent signing, and that should tell you all you need to know about their ability to attract players.
And Luol Deng’s contract will only be on the books for two more years, a time span when they will still stink. He will also serve as a much-needed veteran presence for a young team and should have a more prominent role, regarding playing time, in Atlanta.
Obviously, this deal is theoretical, but if the Lakers can find a team that is in a position like Atlanta, they should take advantage of it. They should not value the first-rounder like the ones they have had in the past. It is not a top-five pick, nor is it worth keeping if it can help you re-sign a player of Julius Randle’s caliber. The Lakers and their fans should be rooting against the Cavaliers as the season comes to a close because with each loss, that pick gains value.