On Tuesday, Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Lakers will be trading Timofey Mozgov and D'Angelo Russell for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in Thursday's draft. With rumors circulating about an imminent Paul George-to-Los Angeles trade, the Lakers made a preemptive move to open up cap space for a potential trade, and cleared the way to draft Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick. Here are three takeaways.
1. The Lakers are making room for a 2018 free agency push
When the salary cap spiked last summer, many teams rushed into the free agent market and spent the additional money right away. The Lakers, under now former general manager Mitch Kupchak, was one of those teams, lavishing Mozgov with a four-year, $64 million deal, and handing a four-year, $72 million deal to Luol Deng.
Mozgov played in 54 games, scoring 7.4 points with 4.9 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game. Deng played in 56 games and averaged a career-low 7.6 points. Neither player was in the team's rotation by the end of the season, and incoming general manager Rob Pelinka was saddled with the responsibility of moving both contracts off the books.
With this deal, the Lakers clear the remainder of Mozgov's contract and also acquire Lopez -- who they see as a stretch-five -- with one year, $22.6 million left on his deal. This clears plenty of money for the Lakers heading into the summer of 2018, when marquee free agents including LeBron James and George will be on the market. If the Lakers can also move Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, and stretch Deng's contract, they will open up enough cap space to sign two max players next summer.
If LAL can find a home for Clarkson, not bring back Randle and stretch Deng, cap space in 18-19 would be $64m. Good enough for 2 max.- Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) June 20, 2017
2. The Nets are in desperate need for a talent infusion
Nets general manager Sean Marks was hired in February 2016 and inherited a roster that was bottoming out and a team without their first round pick until 2019. Since joining the Nets, Marks has brought in head coach Kenny Atkinson, signed Jeremy Lin to a market-friendly deal, and filled the rest of the roster with low-risk/high-reward players. Some -- like Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson -- have panned out and become rotation players. Others -- like Anthony Bennett and Yogi Ferrell -- have not.
Russell -- the second overall pick in the 2015 draft and the cost for the Lakers to shed salary in this deal -- has the highest upside of any player Marks has acquired in his tenure. In his second season, Russell averaged 15.6 points on 40.5 percent shooting. Per ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz on The Lowe Post this week, some within the Lakers organization were not enamored with his development, especially Russell's inability to grasp the team's defensive schemes.
Russell, who is just 21, will now get a change of scenery, a new head coach and less of a spotlight. Removing Lopez from the team means the Nets might be worse than their 20-62 record last season. But it doesn't matter. The Nets now have a chance to see if Russell can develop into a superstar, which will make stomaching the losing next season way easier.
3. Paul George could be a Laker by the end of this week
After George made it clear to the Pacers over the weekend that he intends to sign with the Lakers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season, teams -- including the Cavaliers, Clippers, Rockets and Wizards -- have made inquiries.
The Lakers have jumped into trade talks, as well, in an effort to land George a year before he hits free agency. Per Mark Medina of L.A. Daily News, the Lakers are offering either Randle or Clarkson and either the 27th or 28th pick in the draft.
There's a growing belief the Pacers want to get a deal done before Thursday's draft. The Lakers have to weigh two options: whether to surrender assets now and acquire George for next season, getting his Bird rights in the process, or to pass on Indiana's trade demands and risk having George join another team next year where he might choose to re-sign.
Having surrendered Russell in an effort to clear cap space, the best bet is that the Lakers are ready to finalize a deal for George this week, and then turn their attention to assembling their own superteam in the summer of 2018. If that happens, Tuesday's trade with Brooklyn will be remembered as the start of the Lakers' return to relevance.