The Lakers never found a third star around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Role players stepped up enough in big moments that Los Angeles won the championship. But nobody else solidified himself as a cornerstone.
Which means the Lakers have plenty of moveable pieces if a star becomes available.
Like Thunder guard Chris Paul.
Some league execs point to one of his old Banana Boat buddies as the final piece to LeBron’s Laker dynasty puzzle.
“Chris Paul would love to come back to L.A. I know it would be a dream come true for Chris,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “I know LeBron loves and trusts him and he would be a good fit.”
Paul would fit well on the Lakers. With James Harden on the Rockets, Paul showed his ability to play alongside a ball-dominant scorer and passer like LeBron. Paul’s outside shooting is a big plus in that complementary role, and of course he can handle the ball and be a playmaker himself. Paul could ease the offensive load on LeBron and help set up Davis. Paul’s versatile and effective defense would also be an asset.
But Paul is due $85,569,960 the next two seasons, which complicates a trade.
And makes him attainable.
Paul is still a stellar point guard. If he were younger and cheaper, the Lakers could never get a player of his caliber. But Oklahoma City appears ready to rebuild, and a 35-year-old Paul would no longer fit.
The Lakers must send out at least $33,007,051 in salary to acquire Paul. A package that would get there:
Danny Green ($15,365,853)
Avery Bradley ($5,005,350)*
JaVale McGee ($4,200,000)*
Kyle Kuzma ($3,562,178)
Quinn Cook ($3,000,000)**
Alex Caruso ($2,750,000) or No. 28 pick ($1,964,760)***
*Bradley and McGee have player options. They must opt in before getting traded. It’s far from guaranteed they both opt in.
*Cook’s salary is just $1 million guaranteed until two days before the season officially turns over. The Lakers would have to fully guarantee his contract to keep him rostered and tradeable.
***The No. 28 pick’s salary counts only once he signs, and he can be traded only 30 days after signing.
The Lakers could also sign-and-trade Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to increase outgoing salary. He wouldn’t even have to go to Oklahoma City. If he’s leaving the Lakers, he could become part of this trade and wind up anywhere. His agent, Rich Paul, has an interest in making it happen. If Caldwell-Pope’s new team lacks cap space to sign him outright, this arrangement could help everyone (though that team would have to send salary somewhere in the trade). If Caldwell-Pope’s new team could just sign him directly, that team would need compensation for its trouble.
The Thunder will definitely need compensation for trading Paul.
Perhaps, Oklahoma City won’t press too hard. Paul is a respected veteran who did a great job leading last season. Thunder executive Sam Presti could do Paul a favor by sending him to Los Angeles. There’s value in salary relief, which this deal would provide.
But salary relief isn’t necessarily enough. Other teams should also be interested in Paul.
Kuzma is the most attractive young player in the hypothetical trade, but he’s polarizing. Green and Caruso could be flipped for value. Probably Bradley, too. Maybe even McGee. Oklahoma City could welcome Caldwell-Pope, depending on his contract (which must be at least three years to be signed-and-traded). The No. 28 pick definitely has value if the Thunder make the selection, but if a deal isn’t struck by draft night, the Lakers could take someone Oklahoma City doesn’t want. Timing leaves many chances for this to fall apart, and so much of the return is in the eye of the beholder.
The Lakers have other clearly worthwhile assets, though. This offseason, they’ll be able to trade their 2027 first-rounder. Think Presti might value that distant pick? Los Angeles can also deal its 2023, 2024, 2025, 2026 and 2027 second-rounders.
LeBron means championship contention. He’s also 35. The Lakers should maximize their window while its still open, even if it lowers the floor down the road. It’s worth it.
The Lakers would be sacrificing significant depth by trading for Paul. But they’d still have the mid-level exception to replenish. And minimum slots to play with LeBron, Davis and Paul on a championship contender in Los Angeles are particularly valuable.
Paul is the type of star who’s worth all this trouble.