How The James Harden Trade Affects The Lakers Future

When James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets on Saturday, a small ripple from the trade made it’s way out to Los Angeles. That’s because the Lakers present, as well as their future, were affected by the trade.

For starters, the Thunder were considered the favorites by most to repeat as Western Conference champions. How many of those pundits now consider the Lakers to be the favorites is yet to be seen.

Personally, I think this trade hurts the Thunder this year but has a decent amount of upside for their future. That’s because in addition to Kevin Martin’s expiring contract, the Thunder got a protected first-round pick that belongs to the Toronto Raptors. Per the terms of the draft pick, acquired by Houston in the Kyle Lowry trade, the pick must be a lottery pick.

The only way it won’t be a lottery pick is if the Raptors either make the playoffs every year between now and 2018 or they end up with either a top-3 pick this season, a top-2 pick  in 2014 or 2015, or the first overall pick in 2016 or 2017. Grantland’s Zach Lowe went so far as to predict it will probably fall somewhere between 10-13 in next June’s draft.

I guess you could say that the full value of the trade package acquired by Oklahoma City is dependent on how good or bad the Toronto Raptors are between now and 2017. So if you want to root for a team in the Eastern Conference, Lakers fans, make that team the Toronto Raptors. The better they are, the worse the pick the Thunder gets.

The trade doesn’t only affect the Lakers in 2012-13. It also took one of the best players off my list of “Guys With Expiring Contracts On Non-Playoff Teams Who Might Be Bought Out And Sign On With a Contender.” Kevin Martin has a $12.4 million expiring contract. If the Rockets were lottery-bound and unable to find a taker for Martin by the trade deadline, there’s a good chance that he would have agreed to a buyout and been free to sign with the Lakers. Since there aren’t a lot of guys on that list, it’s kind of a big deal.

**I’m curious how much the Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard had on OKC’s decision to trade Harden. Howard practically made it impossible for the Thunder to consider amnestying Kendrick Perkins and using the savings to make Harden a better offer.

But in terms of the Lakers future, it’s Harden’s impending five-year extension with the Rockets that hurts the Lakers more than anything. I know it was a longshot, but if Harden would have played out this season in Oklahoma City and accepted the qualifying offer instead of becoming a restricted free agent next season, he would have been an unrestricted free agent in 2014 — the same summer when the Lakers will have tons of cap space to hopefully add to a nucleus that currently has just Steve Nash (and hopefully Dwight Howard) under contract.

The fact that Harden is a Southern California native and a graduate of Artesia High gave me just a fingernail’s worth of hope that it was a possibility. Well, we can forget about that now.

First, we can forget about any of the current rookies with team options for 2014-15. Those guys aren’t going anywhere. There are guys who could be restricted free agents, but there’s a good chance that the best of those will have already signed extensions before then.

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So who’s left on the 2014 free agent list?

The only factors likely to prevent those who sign offer sheets from having those offer sheets matched are the financial consequences under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement. The Lakers best bet is in trying to sign an unrestricted free agent who controls his own destiny.

Here are the best players on pace to be unrestricted free agents in 2014, excluding Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol:

  • Kyle Lowry
  • Luke Ridnour
  • Brandon Roy
  • Thabo Sefolosha
  • Danny Granger
  • Luol Deng
  • Caron Butler
  • Shane Battier
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Kris Humphries
  • Marcin Gortat
  • Andrew Bogut

Not a horrible list but not a great one either. The list of guys who have early termination options in 2014 is a lot more attractive but proceed with caution. There’s an excellent chance that many will opt out knowing their current team will re-sign them to a longer, more lucrative deal.

However, with the new CBA, you never know:

  • LeBron James
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Chris Bosh
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Amar’e Stoudemire
  • Andrea Bargnani
Next are the guys who have player options in the summer of 2013 who would become unrestricted free agents if they don’t sign extensions before then:
  • Rudy Gay
  • Tim Duncan
  • Zach Randolph
  • O.J. Mayo
  • Aaron Brooks
  • Jerryd Bayless
  • Brandon Rush
  • J.R. Smith
  • Ben Gordon
  • Andrei Kirilenko
  • Trevor Ariza
  • Richard Jefferson
  • Carl Landry
If you’ve got enough cap space to sign someone to a max deal, that’s not exactly the most attractive list to pick from. Then there are the guys who aren’t on rookie deals but either have early termination options for 2013-14 they’re unlikely to opt out of or have team options that will most likely be exercised by their teams:
  • Emeka Okafor
  • Mario Chalmers
  • Shawn Marion
  • Marvin Williams
There are also guys with early termination options in the summer of 2013 who could decide no to opt out and become free agents in 2014 but will most likely sign extensions before the start of the 2013-14 season:
  • Andre Igoudala
  • Monta Ellis
The next list contains Harden’s fellow 2009 draftees who haven’t signed extensions yet and could elect to take the qualifying offer next summer and become unrestricted free agents in 2014 rather than become restricted free agents next summer. Keep in mind the majority of them will choose to become restricted free agents so they don’t have to wait to get their first big contract:
  • Tyreke Evans
  • Brandon Jennings
  • Jeff Teague
  • Eric Maynor
  • Darren Collison
The reality is that the Lakers might have a better chance adding a role player from one of the above lists with the ful mid-level exception and waiting until 2015 when Nash’s salary is off the books. By then they could have enough cap space to add two guys from the following two lists.
The first is of veterans who will either be unrestricted free agents or can opt out of a player option and become unrestricted. The other is of players from the 2010 Draft who can be restricted free agents if they don’t sign extensions by the 2014 deadline:
  • Kevin Love
  • Rajon Rondo
  • Jeremy Lin
  • Eric Gordon
  • Derrick Favors
  • Evan Turner
  • DeMarcus Cousins
  • Greg Monroe
  • Paul George
  • Eric Bledsoe

There’s a very good chance that 70 percent of all the players listed above won’t be available in either 2014 or 2015. These aren’t guys you should consider Lakers prospects so much as they are guys to keep track of over the next two or three summers. There’s still a very good chance that two of them will be there to help carry this team into the post-Kobe era.

Check out what Mike Brown had to say about Kobe being “chippy” in practice today.
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