Perhaps one day there will be a clear explanation as to why the Lakers chose to fill in for Russell Westbrook to trust their stars’ desires for another All-NBA guy, rather than a smaller change in the form of Buddy Hield.
Maybe it was just a short-sighted grab for more firepower. Maybe it was about asserting power and placating superstars. Or maybe it was just a total blunder, a gamble that quickly went bust.
It’s all kind of irrelevant now as the Lakers stare in the face of a massive decision. Do the Lakers really want to come to training camp with Westbrook on their team, or are they willing to pay a heavy price to undo it?
Speaking to executives from competing teams at both conferences, it’s clear what the cost of a deal will be. At least one first-round pick is needed to park Westbrook anywhere and a second first-round pick to bring back multiple rotation pieces, sources with knowledge of the situation who are not authorized to speak publicly said. These prices could go up (possibly with pick swaps) or down (bad contracts come back to the Lakers) depending on variables.
One of those variables, Donovan Mitchell’s status with the Utah Jazz, was removed Thursday when the Jazz reportedly struck a surprise deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sending Mitchell to LeBron James’ old team for a trio of young players and first-round picks.
It has formalized what many in the NBA saw as the two most viable avenues for the Lakers to improve now. Either the Lakers up their bids to pursue a trade centered on Myles Turner and Hield in Indiana, or turn back to jazz to try and pick the bones of a former competitor driven into a rebuild became.
A deal with the Jazz and the Lakers can make a lot of sense for both sides.
The teams previously collaborated on the Patrick Beverley-Talen Horton-Tucker deal this offseason. The Lakers have future draft assets and need more quality role players, making the Jazz seem like the right place to look for a repeat of the Westbrook trade.
(Why didn’t teams turn that down sooner? Utah had to remain flexible on any possible Mitchell deal. Now that it’s done, they can outsource other parts).
The conversation, at least on the part of the Lakers, should probably start with 33-year-old small forward Bojan Bogdanovic. In Utah’s last three seasons, Bogdanovic has been a capable second scorer, averaging 18.4 points while scoring 44.7% from the field and 49.7% from three hits. He’s one of the NBA’s longest-lived players since joining the NBA in 2014, and at 6-foot-7 he fills a small forward position need.
He’s not a top-ranked defender, but Bogdanovic is the kind of shooter who should create better lanes for James and Anthony Davis and give the team more offensive balance.
However, the Jazz could be looking to sell Bogdanovic – who has one year left on his $19.55m contract – to another competitor in the wing shooting market (because really, almost everyone is looking for it). And a separate Bogdanovic trade could earn the Jazz a predicted late first round pick rather than being part of a larger bundle.
Utah could also demand two firsts from the Lakers and let them make a deal whoever they want.
That package, with or without Bogdanovic, could include players like Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Malik Beasley, who Utah got as part of the Rudy Gobert deal with Minnesota earlier this summer.
While these pieces aren’t the most natural fit – the Lakers probably have too many guards already – there are some real talent upgrades there.
Conley, who is set to make more than $22 million this season and $24 million next season, experienced a dip in his production last year in his 15th season. Conley, who would soon be 35, averaged 13.7 points and 5.3 assists despite notching more than 40% from three hits for the second straight season.
Clarkson, who is no stranger to the Lakers, also has two years left on his contract.
After winning the sixth NBA Man of the Year award in 2021, Clarkson fought from the deep last season, scoring just 31.8% on 7.6 attempts out of three per game.
In some ways, Beasley is a similar player – albeit younger than Clarkson. He’s also a high-volume three-point shooter, albeit much more efficient than Clarkson. Beasley got 37.7% last season but struggled within the arc and made 39.1%. Neither is viewed as a playmaker for others, but neither would be a welcome goalscorer on the ball as Beasley’s shooting and youth likely make him a better pass.
The question, as always, remains the cost.
The Lakers have been reluctant to trade their first-round picks for 2027 and 2029 for a deal that doesn’t make them serious contenders for the next two seasons (if James is guaranteed to be signed). Perhaps, given the $24 million owed after this season, Conley’s inclusion in a deal would allow the Lakers to rally a small handful of top-notch rotation players for a final push with James. And perhaps the Lakers could be pushing for Jared Vanderbilt, a 23-year-old defense and rebound specialist who recently signed with Klutch Sports, as a sweetener in any deal where they first sacrifice a future.
Also, the Lakers may still prefer a hold-turner trade that costs two firsts than any bundle they can put together with the Jazz. There was also a lengthy flirtation with former first-round pick Cam Reddish, who the team was linked with last season at deadline and this offseason.
Sources say the Lakers are comfortable going to training camp with Westbrook on their roster and hope new coach Darvin Ham can unleash increased intensity on defense while another season with James and Davis lives on offense makes easier.
The argument for this, of course, is if the Lakers can’t trade into a real contender this month, wait and handle it later either through free agency or future trades. A bad deal now, forcing them to shed a Future Firsts or two, wouldn’t dramatically increase the cap on this year’s team and handcuff them even more later, sort of a worst-case scenario for the organization.
Still, it’s hard to imagine how a repeat of the Westbrook deal — sending the former MVP for several playable plays — wouldn’t make the Lakers better in the short term.
However, the question they are asking is whether any of the options they are facing today make them good enough.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-09-01/donovan-mitchell-trade-jazz-cavaliers-russell-westbrook-lakers Donovan Mitchell trade may impact Lakers, Russell Westbrook