Gabe Zaldivar | Forbes
Always remember that things could be worse.
It’s a maxim that might make you feel better in your daily life or, if read by a Lakers fan, can be a promise of impending doom.
As the NBA Finals open between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, a few names with offseason intrigue will share the spotlight.
Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are just a few stars the Lakers covet. In all honesty, they don’t have a great shot at any of them.
If the Lakers are going to get demonstrably better this summer, it may very well come by trade. And one name on the LeBron James banana boat just became available.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets are having what amounts to an identity crisis fire sale and everything must go. That includes LeBron buddy Chris Paul.
The fact that the Lakers front office is a circus at the moment means a player like Paul—on the wrong side of 30, coming off his worst statistical season and under contract for an obscene $124 million over three more years ($44.2 million in 2021-22 alone)—is the perfect candidate for them as they embark upon the next episode of their soap opera.
“First Things First” host Nick Wright opined on Wednesday, “For a major franchise-changing move the only real hope the Rockets have is to trick the Lakers into taking Chris Paul and with the way the Lakers are run, they might be able to trick the Lakers into taking Chris Paul.”
Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo contemplate the same scenario.
Bleacher Report’s Preston Ellis writes, “The Lakers should be considered the favorite to acquire Paul.”
And why not? I mean other than it being a bad move for the Lakers to get older and more injury prone and far more restricted by the salary cap moving forward.
What’s clear is that Paul is now inextricably linked to the Lakers until rosters are settled later this summer.
It’s precisely because it makes sense from the standpoint that Paul is still a star and crosses that off of the Lakers’ list and is also James’ close friend, which satisfies the Lakers’ best player.
What it doesn’t do is make much sense on paper. Paul, at 34, is an injury risk and hasn’t played in over 61 games in three seasons.
His 15.6 points per game this season were his lowest of his career, as was his field goal percentage (41.9%). Paul’s win shares (6.6) and VORP (2.4) also reached career lows in a season that saw the nine-time All-Star play in 58 games.
Well, let’s look at a few of the other possibilities.
There’s Anthony Davis, which is the very top of the Lakers’ wish list. A fourth overall pick may be enough to sway the Pelicans’ David Griffin to part with someone who is intent on leaving anyway a year from now.
But Griffin is doing all he can to convince Davis that his best option is to stay in New Orleans.
While rumors have heated up lately on the Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler front, the Lakers are still considered at best a secondary option for any of those superstars this offseason.
The next move after whiffing on Davis and star free agents is a swap for talent on the trade market.
There might be a way for the Lakers to trade for Bradley Beal with Lonzo Ball thrown into the mix. But Beal missing out on the supermax promise of an All-NBA team may have bought the Wizards some time and money.
We are more than a month away from the start of free agency, so a lot can change and at least one superstar can still be convinced that the Lakers aren’t nearly the circus they are made out to be.
But it’s clear that a trade for Paul isn’t as far-fetched as it really should be. The trick comes in making salaries work.
Paul has a cap hit of $38.5 million next season. The Lakers’ next highest guaranteed salary behind James is Ball at $8.7 million followed by Brandon Ingram at $7.2. million. The no. 4 pick is worth about $7.1 million in respect to any salary matching for a hypothetical trade.
Essentially, the Lakers would still have to get mighty creative and clear a ton of money off their roster to land Paul in a deal.
And then all you really have is James, Paul and the solace that nothing lasts forever and the sweet release of another rebuild is only a couple of seasons away.