The Lakers are Playing Chess, Not Checkers
Rob Pelinka’s Plans for Redemption
Damian Jones. Troy Brown Jr. Juan Toscano-Anderson. Lonnie Walker IV.
In an offseason where the Lakers prioritized shooting, these four names don’t remmotely fit the build. Jones is a big who thrives in the paint; Brown is defensive-minded but can’t shoot; Anderson is an energizer who only played in spurts, and Walker, though very athletic, can’t shoot nor defend.
They don’t exactly gel with an offense that’s supposed to cater to Russell Westbrook as its primary facilitator.
That’s what I thought at first, before I began to realize something, and I saw a tweet that further confirmed my suspicions. The Lakers aren’t planning this roster for Westbrook.
They’re planning it for Kyrie Irving.
The Irving-to-the-Lakers chatter first began a few weeks ago, when the superstar point guard and the Nets were stalled in talks surrounding his Player Option. The tension dissipated when Irving decided to opt in, but then it rose like lava when Kevin Durant requested a trade the next morning.
Since then, everyone has predicted that Kyrie will leave the Nets, from diehard sports fans to prominent sports media personalities. And most if not all of them agree, he intends to go to the Lakers.
You would think the purple and gold have the easiest path to acquiring Irving — a swap with Russell Westbrook — but that isn’t necessarily the case. Fans and media have long speculated the need for a third team to absorb Westbrook’s $47 million expiring salary, and proposals have involved teams from the Charlotte Hornets to the OKC Thunder. Now, however, a trade may be a lot easier than all of us expected, and it may not require much from the Lakers after all.
Chris Haynes’s latest report on the matter noted there were several sticking points between the two teams — namely, draft compensation and a second player. The Nets want to throw in guard/wing Joe Harris, who is coming off of ankle surgery from last November and is making $38 million over the next two seasons. The Lakers, on the other hand, want Seth Curry, the other Brooklyn sharpshooter who, though he’s also had injury issues in the past, is on an $8.5 million expiring contract. I guess they heard LeBron mention he wants to team up with Curry in the future and said, “Say no more!”
Though these are the two issues holding up an otherwise fair deal, they are minor at best and should be resolved in the coming days or weeks (assuming the Nets trade Durant first). It’s miraculous that these are the only problems with the Irving trade, as it means that the Lakers don’t have to give up much more, and their path to forming a new, better “Big 3” is becoming easier. Decide between the ‘27 and ‘29 firsts and whether to take Harris or lobby for Seth Curry, and boom, Kyrie Irving is a Los Angeles Laker.
What other fans have noticed — and this is the real kicker — is that Rob Pelinka still has the contracts of Talen Horton-Tucker ($10M) and Kendrick Nunn ($5M) to offer to other teams. Add that with the fact that the LA is reportedly looking to Indiana if their grand plan falls through, and Pelinka’s talk of redemption is close to becoming reality.
Though the Lakers are only eyeing Buddy Hield as a backup plan to Irving, it’s anticipated that, theoretically, they could have both.
Assuming the purple and gold trade for Irving and one of Harris/Curry, they still have other assets to work with, assets that younger, rebuilding teams could really be interested in. Nunn missed all of last season with a bone bruise in his knee, but proved to be an effective three-level scorer with Miami the year before. THT is only 21 years old and, despite all his faults, is truly best with the ball in his hands, something the Lakers haven’t been able to maximize without one of LeBron, AD, or Westbrook being out.
The following is a list of players the Lakers could get by using the aforementioned salaries in a trade*:
*NOTE: Although all of them were traded recently, Barton, Murray, Beasley, Beverley, and KCP could all be traded again (by themselves).
The list is not exhaustive, but any of these players would surely fill LA’s needs, whether it’s shooting, defense, depth, or all three. It’s worth noting that Hield’s salary will be $20M next season, but according to league rules (as quoted by Sports Business Classroom):
“Teams above the luxury tax can only match salary at 125 percent plus $100,000, regardless of how much they send out (provided the team is over the tax after the trade).
For example, for a team under the luxury tax, a player with a $5 million salary can bring back up to $8.85 million. A player at $10 million can bring back up to $15 million. Taxpayers would be limited to $6.35 million and $12.6 million, respectively. And for a $20 million outgoing salary, regardless of the team’s luxury tax status, the incoming salary can reach up to $25.1 million.”
So, the Lakers could acquire Hield in exchange for THT and Nunn (as well as Wenyen Gabriel to be closer in matching salaries), giving them a potential lineup of Kyrie Irving, Buddy Hield, Seth Curry/Joe Harris, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. If Pelinka somehow manages to pull both of those off and make a few more signings that maximize the roster, this team might be giving everyone else a run for their money.
Granted, nothing is certain in the NBA. The discussions with Brooklyn could falter or the Pacers may reject the Lakers’ offer (like they did last time). Still, Pelinka and the rest of the front office know what’s at stake, and the reason why everyone in Lakerland is so quiet right now could be because they’re silently plotting to take banner #18 with a vengeance.