The Los Angeles Lakers are in a great position to ascend rather quickly among the NBA ranks as long as they make the proper moves from now until the beginning of the 2018 NBA regular season.
First and foremost, Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka have been smart by making moves that have put them in a flexible spot for the future.
For example, Los Angeles has just under $54 million on the books for the 2018-19 season. The majority of it comes from Luol Deng and Jordan Clarkson who are due $18 million and $12.5 million respectively, via Spotrac.
However, players like Brook Lopez ($22.6 M) and Corey Brewer ($7.5M) are not under contract and will free up over $30 million in cap space, just enough to bring in a max player like Paul George.
For reference, Gordon Hayward’s contract has an average salary just under $32 million, just two million more than the cap space freed up by Lopez and Brewer.
Whether or not they sign Lopez in the future will depend on what free agents they can entice to come to SoCal. However, they were smart as they have the maneuverability to do what they want. Personally, him coming back at a right price would be a great move to lock up the center position for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, here is one step the Lakers can take now to improve their chances of becoming a contender in 2018.
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Package Deng and Clarkson
Obviously, the Deng contract is a major issue going forward as he is due close to $18 million per year over the next three seasons. An absurd number for a 32-year-old who scored just 7.6 points per game last season and just played in 56 games.
Unfortunately, no team, except maybe the New York Knicks, would take on Deng’s contract without getting something in return. Los Angeles will need to use Clarkson smartly.
A winning team could use Clarkson as a role player and a poor team could use him as a rebuilding piece, much like the Lakers, yet no winning team would want to take on Deng’s massive contract. Therefore, Los Angeles would need to ship him to a rebuilding team.
Essentially, the Lakers need to give up Deng and Clarkson for nothing in return. Then, the rebuilding team can take on a $18 million contract, for they have no one else good to pay and they got a future asset for taking on the contract.
With the aforementioned circumstances, it is hard to find a trade that works for Los Angeles and another team, but we worked hard to find a plausible trade offer that is a win-win for the two teams.
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Dwyane Wade for Deng, Clarkson, 2020 first round pick
The first trade offer involves sending Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade to Los Angeles for Clarkson, Deng and the Lakers’ 2020 first round pick.
The trade works out since Wade’s salary is close to equaling Deng and Clarkson’s salary, per ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine.
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How Los Angeles wins
At the moment, this trade would be a major win for Los Angeles. They would become better now, with Wade, and are better for the future since they shedded Deng’s $18 million contract. The only negative is that they would lose a nice piece in Clarkson, but getting rid of Deng far outweighs keeping Clarkson.
Wade is due $23.8 million in 2017, but he only has one year left on his contract so he doesn’t impact their future free agency plans.
Moreover, Wade will offer a veteran presence to nurture Lonzo Ball, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram.
The Lakers would also improve their ability to land LeBron James next year. Remember, James wants to play with his best friends again, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. If Wade is in Los Angeles, then it would increase the chances of being able to land LeBron.
In regards to the draft pick, Los Angeles should be a good team by 2020, so their draft pick will have much less value.
All in all, the trade would free the Lakers of horrible contracts, bring in a better player who can develop the young guys and improve their chances of landing the greatest basketball player in the world.
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How Chicago wins
The Chicago Bulls are not going to win any playoff series anytime soon after the departure of guard Jimmy Butler. Even with him, the odds would not be in their favor to win a playoff series.
As such, it is now rebuilding time for Chicago. They need to acquire as many draft picks as possible, gather young assets and cut salary cap.
In this deal, the organization would cut Wade’s $23.8 million and would acquire Clarkson who has three years left on his contract.
Deng’s contract is messy, but the Bulls are in the for the long haul. Deng would also be making a return to Chicago which would be a nice sight for the fans to see him retire as a Bull.
In addition, the Bulls would be bringing in a first round selection to help build for the future.
It is time for the organization to focus on winning and not worry about a relationship with Wade. Do what is best for the future.
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The only way this deal doesn’t make sense is if the Bulls don’t want to part ways with their hometown hero Dwyane Wade. If they can get over that, then it would be a sound sports decision for both the Lakers and Chicago.
For Magic Johnson, the Lakers should be building through free agency by bringing marquee stars to Hollywood, not by drafting players.