Ahead of Thursday's NBA trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers made a trade where they sent two young players, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for a 2018 draft pick and two expiring contracts in Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye.
So, why did the Lakers make this trade?
"First, we want to get back to the playoffs," Lakers president of basketball operations Earvin "Magic" Johnson stood in front of a Lakers' backdrop in El Segundo minutes after the trade deadline had passed. "Then, we want to get back to being a championship team. This gives us the flexibility to achieve those things."
Triumphantly, Johnson added, "This is what I came here to do, is to create flexibility for our organization, so that one day, we can have a superstar or two come to this organization with our incredible young talent that we have that we will continue to grow."
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka offerred a far more technical explanation of why the Lakers had made the move. Coupled with the trade over the past summer that sent Timofey Mozgov's contract, along with D'Angelo Russell, for Brook Lopez's expiring contract and a draft pick, Thursday's trade offers the Lakers independence in luring two maximum salary free agents.
According to ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks, the Lakers now project to have $46.9 million of salary cap space in the summer of 2018, with that number jumping up to $69 million if the team does not bring back restricted free agent Julius Randle and uses the stretch provision on the remaining two years of Luol Deng's contract.
Magic Johnson was asked by @billoram if there were any substantive conversations about Luol Deng during the trade deadline, and his initial response is AMAZING! #LakeShow #Lakers pic.twitter.com/IWNU76YGx0— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) February 8, 2018
"I think we, probably more than any organization in the NBA right now, have the healthiest salary structure, the healthiest salary structure the healthiest flexibility," Pelinka explained. "We replenished the fact that a draft pick for 2018 had gone out as part of the Steve Nash deal a few years back. Now, we replenished that first round pick with that deal. We created more flexibility. And lastly, we added two shooters to our lineup, which is something that Magic wanted to see."
Pelinka added, "This trade kind of hit on all fronts: it gave us great flexibility; it gave us our draft pick back; and it addressed a need that our team has right now, which is making three-point shots."
The driving factor in this trade, though, was that the dream of getting both LeBron James and Paul George on the Lakers, or two other free agents of the same ilk, in the summer of 2018 or 2019 is something the Lakers can now control without any outside help.
"We now have in 2018, in July of 2018, and July of 2019, we now have real 100% space to do two max players if that’s what we decide to do," Pelinka stated explicitly. "Or one in 2018 and then following it up with another one in 2019. So, the flexibility is really amazing. So, if you break it down and study the cap, we feel we are the most strongly situated in the NBA in terms of where our cap stands."
Pelinka also stated that a recent ESPN report that the Lakers were looking to the summer of 2019 and past the summer of 2018 was not accurate.
"I think what’s accurate is we have the ability to look at both," Pelinka said about the team's ability to attack free agency in both 2018 and 2019. "And so, in addition to all the other things I said. It’s not either 2019 or 2018. It could be one in each year if we wanted it to be, two in '18, two in '19 or just sticking with our young core, growing these guys."
While both Pelinka and Johnson spoke highly of the two players that had been sacrificed for the team's financial flexibility, the two executives were all smiles and considered the move a major step forward in the hopes to return the team to relevance.
"I don't want to stay where we are," Johnson said. "I don't want to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in. We have to take another step. And so, this move allows us to position ourselves to hopefully take that next step, which is get into the playoffs and be one of the best teams in the west and in basketball."
Asked about his confidence on getting two elite players to join the Lakers, Johnson said, "I wouldn't have made the move if I wasn't confident."