The Los Angeles Lakers appear to be primed for a trade, one that would continue their efforts to play the game within the game by fostering goodwill among players and agents. It’s a delicate balancing act, but for the most part, the current regime has been able to remake the roster while picking up some positive karma around the league.
The Lakers spent the summer working hard to build a team around LeBron James by providing him veterans as well as the flexibility to bring in another star in the near future. However, it was clear that the tinkering was far from over and that more changes would need to be made in order to push the team to the top of the Western Conference.
On Saturday, teams will be able to trade players that were signed this past summer, providing the Lakers with an opportunity to continue to adjust their roster and plot strategy moving forward.
Recent rumors have suggested that Los Angeles is targeting Phoenix Suns forward Trevor Ariza in exchange for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who would likely be routed to a third team that would send a young player and/or a pick to the Suns.
No one should be shocked by this. After all, back in February 2016 when Magic Johnson accepted the task of running the team’s basketball operations department and leading the franchise out of the mire, the first thing he did was execute a trade.
He sent Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Corey Brewer and a first-round pick that would eventually net a building block in Josh Hart.
Since then, Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka have been consistently aggressive, making big moves and carrying out their vision one step at a time.
While not all of their decisions have been home runs, it’s noteworthy that the Lakers are now finding ways to not just bring in talent, but also win the game within the game by building relationships that will help push the team forward.
In the summer of 2017, they jumped at the opportunity to sign Caldwell-Pope when he unexpectedly was made an unrestricted free agent by the Detroit Pistons. The Lakers released David Nwaba, somone they liked, in order to seal the deal with Caldwell-Pope and bring him to Los Angeles because they knew that he represented a stepping stone to James since agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports represents both.
With Caldwell-Pope in the fold, Johnson and Pelinka had a direct line to cultivate a relationship with Paul, which would ultimately help bring James to the purple and gold. The Lakers planned a few moves ahead and it paid off.
Pelinka’s previous role as an agent has certainly helped with these types of strategic moves, and trading Caldwell-Pope to land Ariza would be a continuation of that endeavor.
The Lakers re-signed Caldwell-Pope this past summer to a one-year deal worth $12 million, but after starting every game he appeared in last season, he has found himself in the starting five just three times so far this go-round.
That’s not ideal for a player who will be looking for a new contract next summer, and assuming he won’t outplay Brandon Ingram or Hart for the starting spot, it would be in Caldwell-Pope’s best interest to find somewhere he can get more minutes if he wants to get a better deal in July.
Thus, for the Lakers, finding a new home for Caldwell-Pope is something of a favor to both the player and agent, and would continue to develop a relationship that could become even more important now that Paul has added New Orleans Pelicans star — and trade target extraordinaire — Anthony Davis to his client list.
Of course, if they trade Caldwell-Pope, it won’t be an entirely altruistic move. The Lakers will need to get something in return so that the team, which is currently trending upward, can keep winning games in a tight Western Conference playoff race.
In exchange for finding a new home for Caldwell-Pope, they need a win-now player who is also on an expiring deal so as not to take away their precious salary cap space for 2019 free agency when Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and others hit the market.
Ariza fits those requirements perfectly, with his one-year deal for $15 million keeping the cap clear while his on-court talents would allow the Lakers to mitigate the loss of Caldwell-Pope. Other potential targets include the Miami Heat’s Wayne Ellington and Orlando Magic’s Terrence Ross.
We also can’t rule out the possibility that Caldwell-Pope decides his best option is to remain with the Lakers. He has the right to veto any trade because moving to a new team would cost him his Bird rights, which means the team receiving him would not be able to exceed the salary cap in order to give him a new deal next summer.
His play has picked up in recent weeks, so it wouldn’t be altogether unprecedented for him to come to the conclusion that the best thing for his value is to continue draining threes off the Lakers’ bench.
The only certainty at this point is that the Lakers will be involved in the trade market, and if a deal makes sense they won’t hesitate to make a move, especially it’s a mutually-beneficial deal that will help them build on a relationship that has already brought one superstar to their door.