The Lakers undid two of their previous regime’s most significant moves Tuesday, while improving their position for a big free agency haul next summer.
As general manager Rob Pelinka and President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson began negotiations with the Indiana Pacers to try to land Paul George in a trade, the Lakers sent D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn and cleared more than $22 million in salary cap space for the summer of 2018.
That summer has been the Lakers’ target for overhauling their roster through a talented free-agent class with ties to Los Angeles. That class will include George, who is from Palmdale, LeBron James, who has a home in Brentwood and business relationships in Los Angeles, and Russell Westbrook, a Los Angeles native who played at UCLA.
The Lakers now have the space to offer two maximum contracts next summer. They cleared that space by trading Russell and Mozgov to the Nets for center Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in this year’s draft, according to people familiar with the trade who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Lopez is in the last year of his contract and is due $22.64 million during the 2017-18 season. The contract is friendly to the Lakers, as is Lopez’s style of play. Lopez, who was an All-Star in 2013, led the NBA in three-point attempts by centers, making 34% of them.
As of Tuesday evening, the Lakers were slated to pick second, 27th and 28th in Thursday’s draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
But the Lakers already made attempts Tuesday to flip their new asset.
Tuesday afternoon they offered the 27th and 28th pick to the Pacers, along with forward Julius Randle or guard Jordan Clarkson, in exchange for George, according to a person who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. While it’s likely they will keep the second overall pick and take UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with it, they haven’t ruled out moving it if the right situation arises.
If the Lakers can acquire George in a trade, they will gain his Bird rights according to the collective bargaining agreement. That would allow the Lakers to retain George for a more lucrative contract than other teams could, without regard for the salary cap.
Several teams have reached out to the Pacers about George, including the Clippers, but George has said publicly that he is interested in joining the Lakers. He is likely to be only a one-year rental for another team.
Adding George could make the Lakers a more attractive destination for other top free agents next year. Their growing salary-cap space will do that too.
Moving Mozgov was the most significant move made to that end. The Russian center signed a deal worth $64 million over four years last summer. He was the second highest-paid player on the team, after Luol Deng, who signed a four-year deal worth $72 million.
Mozgov was due $15.28 million this year, $16 million next year and $16.72 million the following year. While Mozgov began the season as the Lakers starting center, he was benched after 54 games and didn’t start again. By the end of the season, rookie Ivica Zubac was starting at center.
Russell’s departure comes two years after the Lakers selected him second overall.
After a tumultuous rookie year, Russell began last season as the Lakers’ starting point guard. He was sidelined by tendinitis in his right knee early in the season, missing 12 games with the injury. His recovery included a platelet-rich-plasma injection used to help foster healing inside the knee.
Russell was removed from the starting lineup for three games in March. When he returned, coach Luke Walton started him at shooting guard and Russell scored 40 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He started at shooting guard the rest of the season, winding up averaging 15.6 points and 4.8 assists in 63 games.
Heading into his third year, Russell was due $5.562 million next season with a team option for the 2018-19 season.
All of these maneuvers happened while the Lakers waited on one more piece of their puzzle: Guard Nick Young must inform them by the end of the day Wednesday whether he will pick up his player option of $5.7 million for next season.
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli