The Los Angeles Lakers have very limited resources to make significant roster signings this offseason in the aftermath of last year’s Russell Westbrook trade. However, L.A. could still acquire a new star — by leveraging a situation in which a disgruntled player forces a trade out of his current team, as might be the case with the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving or the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal.
Latest reports claim the Purple and Gold have shown interest in both players. Theoretically, the Lakers have an easier path to trading for Irving or Beal than they do for Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine, an idea that came up a few weeks ago thanks to LaVar Ball’s big mouth.
First, Irving and Beal have player options in their contracts for 2022-23, a significant pressure point to use in negotiations with their respective teams. Second, their next year’s salaries are higher than LaVine’s, making it easier for the Lakers to put together a deal that would satisfy the CBA’s salary-matching rules.
Each of L.A.’s players on maximum contracts — LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook (with the latter widely expected to pick up his $47.1 million player option for 2022-23) — could work in a potential exchange for Irving or Beal. However, the possibility of the Lakers parting ways with Davis seems highly unlikely while ending the James era so soon borders on the impossible.
Expecting either Irving or Beal to sign with L.A. as free agents for less than $30 million in the first year of the contract looks just as improbable — not to mention the Purple and Gold would have to get rid of all the players besides James and Davis and take on no salary in exchange to free up those funds.
So let’s focus on how the Lakers could sign Irving or Beal by sending Westbrook the other way.
Beal/Irving picks up player option, one-to-one swap
The easiest way for the Lakers to bring in Irving or Beal would require either player to opt into the last year of their contract. In Irving’s case, his 2022-23 salary would amount to $36.9 million. Meanwhile, Beal would be owed $36.4 million.
Now, to obey by the rules outlined in the current CBA, teams can’t take on more money than 125% + $100,000 of the outgoing salary in a trade. That means the Wizards or the Nets would have to send over $37 million to
L.A. to accommodate Westbrook’s $47.1 million salary — just about exceeding Irving’s and Beal’s outgoing trade value.
However, each year NBA teams have a set amount of cash available to use and make the math work — which resets at the start of a new NBA year. For the 2021-22 season, the limit was $5,785,000. Both the Nets and the Wizards would only need to add in about a fifth of that sum to stay below the maximum incoming salary required for the Westbrook trade to be valid.
But that could also embolden them to demand one of the Lakers’ future first-round draft picks, which they have reportedly been reluctant to give up. In a situation where they’re acquiring a star though, the Lakers may feel differently. If they are willing to trade future first-round picks, then the Lakers will have their 2027 and 2029 picks available to offer.
While those picks are years down the road, they could be appealing considering they will likely convey in the post-LeBron James era when who knows where the Lakers will be at as an organization. Additionally, because both Irving and Beal have player options, they could use that as leverage by threatening to opt-out and leave for nothing in free agency if their respective teams do not send them to the destination of their choice, which in this scenario would be the Lakers.
Beal/Irving picks up player option, multi-team trade
If Beal or Irving picked up their player options, the Lakers could also engage a third team in case the Nets or the Wizards were unwiling to accept a straight swap for Westbrook.
The three teams could even potentially trade the players between themselves, although that would require both Beal and Irving to forgo millions of dollars available to them in free agency this summer, an unlikely scenario.
This is where the previously talked about Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets trade packages could come in handy. Both teams could offer the Wizards or the Nets potentially useful role players in exchange for Westbrook’s expiring contract, while the Pacers and Hornets would get salary relief by unloading long-term contacts for Westbrook’s expiring deal.
Beal/Irving picks up player option, Lakers include THT and/or Nunn
The Lakers could add Talen Horton-Tucker and/or Kendrick Nunn to the Westbrook package as an incentive for the Wizards or the Nets to get the deal done — which would require them to add one of their players to match the incoming and outgoing salary.
If the Wizards accepted such offer, L.A. could potentially reunite with Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Thomas Bryant.
But it seems more likely that broadening the scope of the trade would be more appealing to the Nets, who could include Joe Harris and his two-year, $18.6 million annually in the deal. Brooklyn might want to part ways with the sharpshooter after he missed the majority of 2021-22 with a knee injury, which made the player go under the knife three times.
Beal/Irving sign-and-trade, one-to-one swap
Both Beal and Irving could significantly increase their earnings this summer, signing full max contracts with the Wizards and the Nets, respectively, worth a stunning $246 million over five years.
However, if they are desperate to change teams, perhaps they could kill two birds with one stone and move elsewhere on a max deal up to four years long. That would guarantee them the same $42.4 million base salary in 2022-23 — but also cost tens of millions of dollars over the remainder of the contract.
A new deal often is what star players demand in order to join another team via sign-and-trade. If Beal and Irving talked the Lakers into offering them the max contract and convinced their teams to give the green light for their departure, they could sign the new deal and then get traded for Westbrook.
However, the sign-and-trade would hard-cap the Purple and Gold for 2022-23. With James, Davis, Beal or Irving, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn (if he picks up his $5.3 player option as expected), Stanley Johnson, Wenyen Gabriel, and Austin Reaves on the payroll, the Lakers would only have a little over $10 million to fill up the other roster spots.
Even if Beal or Irving settled for less than a maximum contract, the Lakers’ budget would increase only by a few million dollars. It’s highly unlikely L.A.’s front office would go down this route.