The formula for a championship contending team includes having a mix of superstars, veterans, and young players on rookie scale contracts. The young guns are just as important as the other two types because they allow the team to have contributing players on relatively cheap contracts.
Kuzma, Hart, Zubac, Svi, and Wagner all are making less then $2M each this season. This is a tremendous value as several of these players will likely earn $10M+ contracts once their rookie deals expire in a few years. For example, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is pulling in $12M this year. While he’s a great addition to the team, the rookie scale contracts are a steal in comparison. Former Laker Julius Randle is making just under $9M this year.
When making trades, the total salaries of traded players must be roughly the same. (The exception to this is when a team is under the cap and can absorb a trade without going over the cap.) That makes trading young players on rookie scale deals a challenge. How would the Lakers ever get equal value if they traded Hart and Kuzma, with a combined salary of less then $4M? It’s simply not possible. That’s part of the reason why they are still on the roster. Their contracts are almost as valuable as their talent.
So it’s safe to say, none of the young Lakers are going anywhere unless it’s as a sweetener in a trade for an All-NBA level talent. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are slightly more tradeable at $8.7M and $7.2M, but the same concept applies. Their value is more then just their talent, it’s also their relatively cheap rookie scale contracts.
We all know LeBron James will never be traded, so besides Luol Deng, the only tradeable players left are the new additions: KCP at $12M, Rondo at $9M, Stephenson at $4.5M, McGee at $2.4M, and Beasley at $2.1M. Magic and Rob were smart to give them all 1-year deals. Not only does this maintain cap flexibility for next year when Durant, Thompson, Leonard, Butler, and Cousins will be free agents…it also creates multiple trade assets in the form of five expiring contracts. Ivica Zubac is also on an expiring contract as he’s currently on the last year of his rookie scale deal.
If the trade deadline comes around and there’s a team out there that’s suddenly ready to switch to a tanking strategy, the Lakers are in a good position to acquire someone at a discount. Of course, if the Lakers trade for a player with multiple years left on their deal, he would have to be a game changer. While unlikely, at least the option is there without having to trade any of the young core, who would all be undervalued in a trade due their rookie scale contracts.
Another type of trade asset is a future draft pick. Late first round picks are hard to get right, as they sometimes end up becoming career bench players. However, the Lakers scouting department has been on fire recently, making draft day trades in 2017 for gems such as F Kyle Kuzma (27th overall), and SG/SF Josh Hart (30th overall). This year, they selected 7’ PF Moe Wagner at 25, and SG Svi Mykhailiuk at 47. Both of them were drafted for their shooting potential. With this type of recent success at the draft, trading draft picks isn’t ideal either unless they’re used as sweeteners packaged with some of the expiring contracts mentioned earlier.
The final and most difficult to move trade piece is Luol Deng. He’s got a monster contract that will only be movable next season when he’ll have an expiring contract of $18M. Even then, it’s going to be extremely difficult to find a trade partner willing to take on his salary. The only hope would be to find a team looking to salary dump an All-Star caliber player with multiple years left on their deal, but don’t hold your breath.
If the Lakers do make a trade this year, you can bet it’s going to involve a combination of KCP, Rondo, Stephenson, McGee, Beasley, Zubac, and possibly a draft pick or two. Check out Magic’s comments last February about a potential Deng trade:
Magic Johnson was asked by @billoram if there were any substantive conversations about Luol Deng during the trade deadline, and his initial response is AMAZING! #LakeShow #Lakers pic.twitter.com/IWNU76YGx0
— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) February 8, 2018
Contact Ryan Ramsey on Twitter @DoubleR818