It has finally happened.
After a lengthy saga, the Lakers move forward with their long-awaited second superstar to pair with LeBron James.
And, assuming everything is lined up to be executed in the most advantageous way possible, L.A. should have room to add a third star via free agency. Because the Lakers will largely use the salary matching of Ball, Hart and Ingram, as well as some cap space to bring in Davis, they’ll conserve enough space to make a max offer to a free agent. They could also draft for the Pelicans with the fourth pick, sign that player and use that $7 million toward matching for Davis as well. There are a few ways Los Angeles can put this together, but all avenues involve waiting to execute this deal until after the league year changes over on July 1.
By using as much salary matching possible, the Lakers will land somewhere between $27 million and $32 million in cap space. They still have some other contracts on their books that could be easily moved to up that number slightly, but that’s likely to be the range. That is enough for L.A. to have conversations with any of the top free agents on the market. There are reports that have Kemba Walker as the Lakers’ top target. That would mean Walker would have to settle for slightly less than his max amount, but it could be worth it to him to chase a championship alongside James and Davis in Los Angeles.
That means the Lakers could be left with a lineup of Davis, Kyle Kuzma, James, another free agent and Walker.
The Lakers have the room exception of $4.76 million to add players, as well as minimum exceptions to fill out the roster. With a deep, versatile free-agent class this summer, Los Angeles should have no problem finding players to fill rotation roles on the cheap for at least a season or two.
As for the Pelicans, they now move forward with a franchise built around youth that will likely be headlined by Zion Williamson. Williamson will team up with Ingram, Ball and Hart, as well as whomever New Orleans drafts with the fourth pick, should it hang on to that selection. The Pels should also have around $18 million or so in cap space to use to fill out their roster.
With Jrue Holiday still in the fold, New Orleans could conceivably build a roster that could contend for the playoffs next season. Or they could begin a full rebuild around their newly acquired young players and trade Holiday for talented youngsters or more future draft picks. The flexibility is there to go in either direction, and the excitement for Williamson allows the team to rebuild over the next couple of seasons.
David Griffin walked into a tough situation as the head of the Pelicans’ basketball operations with his star player wanting a trade, but he came out looking pretty good. Ingram became a solid wing scorer before his health issues cropped up. If Ingram can get back to full health, he’ll pair with Williamson to make a solid forward duo for years to come. Ball has health issues of his own, but he’s a talented playmaker and good defender. His passing should help make Williamson’s transition to the NBA easier. Hart is a solid role player on the wing and could still develop into more than that.
And of course, landing three first-round picks is gold. The Lakers are no lock to be title contenders throughout the next seven seasons, when the last of those three picks could convey to the Pelicans. James would be past his 20th season at that point, and Davis would have to stay completely healthy for the next half decade or more. As the Brooklyn Nets found out in their trade with the Boston Celtics, relying on aging players is a tricky proposition when another team essentially controls the draft capital moving forward.
This offseason promises to be one of major change for the NBA, as 40 percent of the league is scheduled to become free agents in July. And nearly half the league projects to have significant cap space. Now everyone is chasing the Lakers to start the summer, and they are off and running after swinging a trade for a new superstar big man.
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