Years of futility are finally beginning to pay off for the Los Angeles Lakers, who saw notable improvement this season and head into the summer with plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Chief among them is a young core headlined by Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
They, along with restricted free agent Julius Randle, spearheaded a nine-win improvement in the second year under head coach Luke Walton. Also working in the Lakers’ favor is the salary cap space that allows for them to sign two max-contract free agents this offseason.
From president of basketball operations Magic Johnson to general manager Rob Pelinka to Walton, the Lakers have championed their core nucleus as reason for marquee free agents to give signing with the team serious consideration.
But by that same token, a report indicated the Lakers do not consider any of their players off limits in trade talks. That being said, the team isn’t believed to be actively shopping Ball, Hart, Ingram or Kuzma.
While the Lakers have grand visions of signing LeBron James and Paul George, they could tap into their wealth of young talent to also pull off a stunning trade. One candidate who comes to mind is San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
Under the ruse that L.A. would be willing to trade one of their young players, the LakersNation.com staff named who they believe would be the most feasible to part with.
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand):
If it was up to me, I wouldn’t trade anyone from the young core, especially for someone like Kawhi Leonard, who is going to be a free agent in a year.
Obviously, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are the players I really would like to hold onto. So if they were to make a trade, the players I would be OK with moving are Julius Randle in a sign-and-trade, Josh Hart (really would like to keep Hart though), Thomas Bryant and this or next year’s first round draft pick.
I think the best option for the Lakers moving forward is to keep developing the young core and add talent through free agency. If they strike out on Paul George and LeBron James this year, they can always just go the route of handing out some one-year contracts and then try again in free agency next summer.
Dan Duangdao (@DanDuangdao):
Since the Lakers have been linked to LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, Lonzo Ball is the only player I would not trade.
Brandon Ingram has the most potential out of the team’s young core, but Ball is the perfect fit if they ultimately land two All-Star wings over the next two summers.
In a scenario where the Lakers sign George and want to trade for Leonard this summer, Ingram and Kyle Kuzma fill needs for the San Antonio Spurs. Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge and an aging Pau Gasol, the Spurs could use an infusion of young prospects in the frontcourt.
As Dejounte Murray is their point guard of the future, there is already depth at that particular position with Tony Parker (free agent), Patty Mills (re-signed on a four-year, $50 million deal last summer), and Derrick White (No. 29 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft).
With the Lakers embracing a pace-and-space system under head coach Luke Walton, Ball plays an extremely important role, especially with the potential addition of two 20-point scorers. While Ball will need to improve his shooting percentages and stay relatively healthy, the 20-year-old’s impact goes beyond the box score.
Already one of the best rebounders and defenders at the point guard position, Ball’s pass-first mentality is rare in today’s NBA. From making the right plays to creating fastbreak opportunities for his teammates off of rebounds and outlet passes, Ball established himself as a prospect that other players want to play with.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane):
The Lakers have pieced together an intriguing young core but as of right now they don’t have any clear-cut superstars. As such, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka should absolutely listen to trade offers for anyone.
That said, the one player that they really shouldn’t trade unless they are completely blown away by a Godfather offer is Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball fits the team’s playing style perfectly, Kyle Kuzma has been a revelation, and Josh Hart had moments of brilliance, but only Ingram looked capable of hitting that next level of play.
During the month of February, Ingram averaged 18.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists while playing a point-forward role for the Lakers. He was ridiculously efficient, hitting 55 percent from the field, 52 percent from three, and 78 percent from the line.
While the 3-point percentage isn’t sustainable, it was still a long stretch that saw Ingram play at an All-Star — and sometimes superstar — level.
It’s rare to find a player who can do the things across the board that Ingram can so he’s the one guy I would be extremely hesitant to part with.
Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1015):
For me, there really isn’t a clear-cut answer to this. So I will preface my response by saying it’s heavily dependent on how free agency shakes out. And with that, if the Lakers do somehow sign LeBron James and Paul George, then Kyle Kuzma would be my ‘untouchable’ player.
Yes, Brandon Ingram has the higher ceiling, and Lonzo Ball makes more of an overall impact. But I’d argue they’re redundant under the assumption James and George are in the fold, particularly if a blockbuster trade is being completed for Kawhi Leonard.
Beyond that, using Ball or Ingram or Josh Hart for that matter, in a package to acquire Anthony Davis or another talented big man, wouldn’t be the worst scenario. That would make the Lakers a top-heavy team, and having someone like Kuzma as the sixth man suddenly becomes all the more valuable and necessary.