2019-20 NBA trade season is officially here now that most of the players signed during 2019 NBA free agency are eligible to be dealt and teams around the league are taking stock of their situations and trying to figure out the best course of action moving forward.
Decisions made over the next two months will have ripple effects lasting seasons and may ultimately decide who takes home the championship as the Toronto Raptors trade deadline move to land Marc Gasol last season did for them.
While many teams currently find themselves in limbo — unsure of whether they should be buyers or sellers because they sit in the middle of the pack — the Los Angeles Lakers are clearly locked in as a buyer with their sights set on a championship.
However, that doesn’t mean that general manager Rob Pelinka will have an easy task ahead of him. In many ways, he enters the trade period with his hands tied behind his back due to moves that were made this past summer, though the team certainly isn’t regretting them.
The team’s cupboard is all but bare when it comes to draft assets thanks to the picks they gave up in the Anthony Davis trade. While they currently have their 2020 first round draft pick, the Lakers aren’t able to trade it due to rules regarding trading away consecutive first round draft picks (also known as the Stepien Rule). Due to these rules and the other picks and pick swaps sent to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, the Lakers currently can’t trade one through 2025.
That could be a massive obstacle for Pelinka to overcome if he’s hoping to add some firepower midseason as teams looking to cash out by flipping talented veterans typically want draft assets in return. Rival buyers (such as the Los Angeles Clippers) can offer their 2020 first round draft pick, perhaps giving them a leg up on the Lakers in any kind of bidding war for talent.
Furthermore, the Lakers signed a number of players to two-year deals that included player options. For Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee, being traded would result in the loss of the Bird Rights they have acquired by being with the Lakers for multiple seasons. Since a trade could cost them that right, the players have the ability to veto a deal, giving them a de facto no-trade clause, which could complicate things should a trade opportunity arise.
Caldwell-Pope’s salary of just over $8 million could be a particularly useful chip in any deal, but he may not want to leave a contending team like the Lakers and the fact that he shares an agency (Klutch Sports) with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis only complicates things further.
Caldwell-Pope does have a 15 percent trade kicker so he gets a nice bonus if he is dealt, but that may not be enough of an incentive for him to give the green light on a trade.
That said, Caldwell-Pope, Rondo, and McGee have all had varying levels of success this season and there is no evidence to suggest the Lakers are — or should be — motivated to move them.
Meanwhile, players who have struggled — such as Kyle Kuzma, Troy Daniels, and Quinn Cook — aren’t likely to bring a sizable return on the trade market with the exception of perhaps Kuzma, but his contract is so small that it makes matching salaries in a deal difficult. The Lakers have shown faith in Kuzma in the past and it would be somewhat surprising to see them move on during a downturn that is at least somewhat the result of injuries.
Finally, the Lakers also have to be careful with which players they would pursue in a trade. It’s no coincidence that all of the contracts they signed this recent summer only last for two seasons as 2021 free agency offers a robust group of All-Star players headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo. James has a player option that year for just over $41 million and the Lakers hope Davis will be locked up on a long-term deal then but other than that (and a pesky final payment to Luol Deng), the team’s books could be relatively clear to chase another All-Star player.
A lot can change between now and then as cap projections are updated but if the Lakers do take on a deal longer than two years in a trade, then their ability to be a player in 2021 free agency could be compromised. Perhaps they find a player they feel is worth that sacrifice, but it’s another factor to consider when looking at their trade prospects.
What it all adds up to is that Pelinka won’t have an easy time finding a trade during the season. He has been resourceful in the past but for lack of a better term, he will have to work some magic if he’s going to find the perfect midseason trade for the Lakers.