Lakers want to build around young core but have told teams no player is untouchable in trades
As the Lakers head into a potentially franchise-changing offseason, their front office is keeping its options fully open.
While they like their young core and would prefer to keep those players growing together, they have told teams no player is untouchable in trades, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade and free-agent negotiations.
To be clear, the Lakers are not actively shopping any of their players. They are willing to listen to offers and could move one of them — even a member of the talented young cadre of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart — if an offer blows them away.
Publicly the Lakers have remained mum on the subject. When Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations, was asked during a news conference in April whether he would consider trading any of his young core this summer, Johnson declined to entertain the question.
Since a regime change in the spring of 2017, the Lakers have worked to position themselves to have the option to be major players in the free-agency periods of this summer and 2019.
Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka made clear they were planning to save salary cap space for two summers that will have talented free-agent classes. LeBron James and Paul George are expected to be free agents this summer, while next year’s class could include Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson.
Leonard might be available this summer if the Spurs choose to trade him. The All-Star forward played in only nine games this season while recovering from a right quad injury, leading to tension between him and the team. There are those around the league who believe the Lakers would be his preferred destination.
In order to keep their salary cap flexible, the Lakers refused to offer any multiyear contracts to free agents last summer. They focused on one-year deals in free agency (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and acquiring expiring contracts in trades (Brook Lopez, Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye).
They traded Timofey Mozgov, who signed a four-year deal worth $64 million in July 2016 and sent D’Angelo Russell along with him to free up significant salary cap space. At the trade deadline this year, they created more space for themselves by trading Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. for Thomas, Frye and a first-round pick.
The Lakers now have the salary cap space to add at least one maximum contract, and could, with a few maneuvers, add two this summer.
Complicating matters is Julius Randle, who made a positive impression on the Lakers this season by averaging 18 points a game as a starter and dominating opponents as a backup center before that.
While the Lakers have not begun hard negotiations with Randle, they have kept the line of communication open with his representatives. Randle will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Lakers will have the option to match any offer he receives on the market.
Having positioned themselves to add free agents, the Lakers also have put themselves in a position to improve through home-grown players the way the Oklahoma City Thunder did from 2007 until the 2010-11 season, when they went to the NBA Finals.
Kuzma, Ball, Ingram and Hart all showed the ability to be strong parts of the future, as did Randle. Those players also could be part of what draws a high-end free agent to the Lakers this summer.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli
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