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The Los Angeles Lakers ended last season by standing on the court last. Now they’ve started this upcoming season by acting first.
By agreeing to trade for guard Dennis Schröder, the Lakers sent the NBA a strong message that they weren’t going to hide behind the championship trophy they earned inside the NBA bubble. They were going to set the tone for what will be one of the wildest NBA weeks in league history by acting first and getting one of the league’s top available guards.
With Rajon Rondo likely headed for too expensive of a payday for L.A. to match, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka agreed to send Danny Green and the No. 28 pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft to the Thunder for Schröder, a dynamic guard who was one of the best reserves in the NBA last season.
The NBA’s trade market officially opens Monday at 9 a.m. PST, with stars like Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday potentially on the move. The NBA then will hold a virtual draft. And Friday, the league will open free agency, a weeklong parade of transactions for teams trying to catch the NBA’s defending champions.
Sunday’s deal with the Thunder put into action a plan that was percolating before the Lakers even boarded a flight out of Orlando, Fla. — standing pat wouldn’t be good enough. Repeating would require improving.
The Lakers have already shown they’ll be players during the week. Up next? Sources say they’re very interested in guard Wesley Matthews to replace Green as an all-important defensive-minded wing. The team also has to decide whether to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard while awaiting word on whether Avery Bradley or JaVale McGee will exercise their player options.
Then there’s the matter of Anthony Davis’ free agency, which is more of a formality centered on the kind of deal he wants — and not who will give it to him.
In Schröder, the Lakers address a common concern about their roster. Scouts and executives from rival organizations have long known of the Lakers’ desire to find another playmaker who can ease some of the burden carried by LeBron James, and to a lesser extent, Davis.
James, Rondo and Davis combined for nearly 62% of the Lakers’ assists during the team’s run to the NBA title. With Rondo set to cash in on his terrific postseason, the Lakers don’t want any more playmaking responsibilities to fall onto James’ soon-to-be 36-year-old shoulders.
Schröder excelled alongside Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last season, coming off the bench to average a second-best 18.9 points while making 38.5% of his three-point shots. At 6 feet 1 , the 27-year-old Schröder could function as a starting point guard where he’d be more of a distributor while being the primary shot-taker with any non-James or non-Davis lineups.
The trade, while agreed upon, cannot officially be consummated until after the Lakers make their first-round pick Wednesday. The NBA prohibits teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years, and the Lakers’ 2021 first-rounder already belongs to New Orleans from the trade to acquire Davis.
While Schröder is well-regarded and largely viewed by rival scouts and executives as an upgrade for the Lakers, the deal doesn’t come without cost.
Green started every game he played for the Lakers last season, averaging 8.0 points while shooting 36.7% from three-point range during the regular season.
He was the first player the Lakers signed after their pursuit for Kawhi Leonard came up empty, giving the Lakers a proven championship-level starter. While Green struggled this postseason, even receiving threats via social media after missing a potential series-winner in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, his selflessness and defensive mind-sets were cornerstones of the culture coach Frank Vogel was trying to build.
Greenis one of the most well-liked teammates in the NBA after championship runs in San Antonio and Toronto.
The Lakers decided to move on with a younger playmaking guard.
The Golden State Warriors are armed with the No. 2 pick Wednesday, a healthy backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and a sizable trade exception. The Denver Nuggets have the pieces to acquire a top star. The Clippers will be fueled by the sting of last season’s failures, as will the Milwaukee Bucks. And the Brooklyn Nets will finally pair Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, while still being in the mix for a third star via trade.
They’re all chasing the defending champions. And Sunday, the Lakers got themselves a little bit of a head start by acting first.
Staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.