‘Unraveling’ Lakers Have Advantage in Blockbuster for $163 Million Star: Execs

Donovan Mitchell (right), Jazz

Getty Donovan Mitchell (right), Jazz

The Jazz and Lakers completed an NBA trade this week, with L.A. sending out guard Talen Horton-Tucker and wing Stanley Johnson to Utah for veteran defensive guard Patrick Beverley, the former Clipper and longtime Lakers nemesis. But that’s not to say potential Lakers-Jazz dealings are done.

Indeed, it may have come as a bit of a surprise to see that the Lakers were among the teams still considered contenders to land Jazz star Donovan Mitchell in a trade this offseason. That was the case according to a report from veteran Suns observer John Gambadoro, who had L.A. among the teams that were still in the hunt for Mitchell, who is in the second year of a five-year, $163 million deal.

Here’s what he tweeted: “Couple things on Donovan Mitchell. The Hawks, Heat & Kings are NOT interested contrary to reports. Knicks still have the best package to offer but other teams interested are Cleveland, Washington, Charlotte, LA Lakers & Brooklyn. And no the Jazz never asked for 7 1st round picks!”

It’s true that though the Jazz might not have asked for seven picks, team CEO Danny Ainge certainly asked for six in a Mitchell deal. The only non-rebuilding team in position to offer that kind of draft lucre is the Knicks, who have four incoming picks to offer as well as, potentially, four of their own. The Lakers have just two first-rounders to deal.

“He’s going to ask for as many first-rounders as possible within reason,” one NBA Eastern Conference executive told Heavy. “Most teams, that is three or four. The Knicks, it’s six. Of course, he would start by asking for six. What they (the Jazz) want most of all is just a chance to get into the Top 3 or Top 5, and to get as many chances of that as possible.”

Protections a Problem for Knicks

The problem for the Knicks, though, is that the picks incoming from other teams come with hefty protections, and have zero chance of landing in the Top 5.

Next year’s pick from Dallas is Top 10 protected, and is likely to land in the 20s anyway because Dallas is a good team. Next year’s pick from Detroit is Top 18 protected for two years, then drops as low as Top 9 (in 2027) before it turns into two second-rounders. A Washington 2023 pick is protected for the Top 14, and that whittles down to No. 8 in 2026, then becomes second-rounders. There is a Milwaukee pick in 2025 that is Top 4 protected, but the Bucks are likely to still be good then.

The Knicks could offer their own picks in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 without protections, and/or could add in pick swaps in other years. That’s only really valuable to the Jazz if New York becomes a bad team along the way, even with Mitchell and new addition Jalen Brunson. That’s possible, but it’s no sure thing.

Teams Expect the Lakers to ‘Bomb Out’ in 5 Years

That’s where the Lakers come in. They (famously by now) have only two first-round picks they can offer, in 2027 and 2029, a far lighter load than what the Knicks can put up. The difference is that, around the league, those picks have huge value if they are left unprotected.

By 2027, LeBron James will be a distant memory for the Lakers. Anthony Davis might well be, too, given that he will be 34 and has such a long list of injuries on his resume. In 2029, Davis will surely be gone and the Lakers figure to be terrible. Here’s what another NBA executive explained:

It’s impossible to say that a team is going to be good or bad in five years, you never know what can happen, you never know how drafts are going to pan out. Look at what happened with Milwaukee, they have the No. 2 pick and it turns out to be Jabari Parker, and they have the No. 15 pick and it’s Giannis (Antetokounmpo). So, you don’t know.

But you can guess, right? We run models and look at it analytically, but you can look at it just with an eye test, too. With the Lakers, you’re guessing 2025, 2026, that is when things will be completely unraveling for them, when they will bomb out. So, if you have two of their picks with no protections in that range it is worth four or five picks, maybe more, compared to what the Knicks are giving you, where you’re not even landing in the lottery in all likelihood. If you’re Danny Ainge, that is what you’re weighing. Charlotte, you have to weigh what they’re going to do, and Washington if (Bradley) Beal can’t stay healthy in his 30s.

Now, probably, the Knicks will give up some later picks of their own without protections and that gets the deal done but everybody wants those Lakers picks.”

The trade for Beverley does throw some cold water on the potential for a Mitchell-to-Lakers deal, because if L.A. and Utah wanted to make a swap, they could have done a mega-trade with Beverley and Mitchell (and more) coming to the Lakers. Under NBA rules, Beverley can’t be traded with other players because he was traded within the past two months, but that restriction expires next week.

But it doesn’t eliminate the Lakers, either. There’s nothing to say L.A. can’t come back to the table with Utah on a Mitchell deal, which involves more posturing and negotiating with other teams than the trade for Beverley required. L.A. can send out Russell Westbrook (whose contract expires after this year) and give the Jazz payroll relief by taking back Jordan Clarkson (two years, $27.5 million remaining) in a deal.

The Knicks are still the favorite for Mitchell, because they can give up the most picks for him, and can send the Jazz some young players in return. The Lakers can’t match that. They can, though, give up the best picks, and that’s kept their hopes alive.


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