The Los Angeles Lakers could have a unique opportunity to steal a top free agent this offseason due to a perfect storm of events that could give several elite players leverage to force their teams to make sign-and-trade deals.
The key events unlocking this opportunity for the Lakers teams are the presence of teams unwilling to reward their free agents and the absence of winning teams with the cap space to sign them as unrestricted free agents. The only way for these free agents to get paid what they’re worth and end up playing for a winning team is to use the threat of signing as free agents to force their teams to sign-and-trade them to avoid losing them for nothing.
Because all of these players are unrestricted free agents, there are no rules preventing the Lakers from contacting their agents and offering more than their teams would be willing to pay to set the stage for a sign-and-trade. With Kyle Kuzma’s rookie contract, $20 million in expiring contracts, and their 2020 first round pick, the Lakers have exactly what teams looking to avoid long term commitments would want to make a sign-and-trade deal.
Here are the four top free agents the Lakers could steal with sign-and-trade deals. All four are proven young players with upside who could be valuable trading chips in a future sign-and-trade deal for an available superstar.
1. Toronto Raptors Point Guard Fred Van Fleet
Fred VanVleet is a 26-year old point guard who averaged 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, and 3.8 rebounds in 35.8 minutes per game for the Toronto Raptors. He earned $9.3M last year and should see that jump to $15M to $18M.
VanVleet would fill the Lakers need for a 3rd scorer and 2nd playmaker. Lakers could offer Fred $21M per year for 3 years in a sign-and-trade for Kyle Kuzma ($2M), Danny Green ($15M), and their 2020 first round pick.
2. Brooklyn Nets Shooting Guard Joe Harris
Joe Harris is a 28-year old shooting guard who averaged 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 30.9 minutes per game for the Brooklyn Nets. He earned $7.7M last year and should see that jump to $12M to 15M.
Harris is an elite 3-point shooter who’d fill the Lakers need for a 3rd scorer. Lakers could offer Joe $18M per year for 3 years in a sign and trade deal for Kyle Kuzma ($2M), Danny Green ($15M), and their 2020 first round pick.
3. Detroit Pistons Power Forward Christian Wood
Christian Wood is a 24-year old power forward who averaged 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.0 assist in 21.4 minutes per game for the Detroit Pistons. He earned $1.6M last year and that could jump to $15M to $18M.
Wood is the biggest gamble but also has potential to be a star. The Lakers could offer Christian $20M per year for 3 years in a sign-and-trade for Kyle Kuzma ($2M), Danny Green ($15M), and their 2020 first round pick.
4. Los Angeles Clippers Power Forward Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell is a 26-year old power forward who averaged 18.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 27.8 minutes per game for the LA Clippers. He earned $6M last year and that could jump to $18M to $20M.
Harrell is a Klutch Sports client and top candidate for 6MOY. The Lakers could offer Montrezl $22M per year for 3 years in a sign-and-trade for Kyle Kuzma ($2M), Danny Green ($15M), and their 2020 first round pick.
The Miami Heat and perennial losing teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, and Phoenix Suns are the only NBA teams with the cap space to sign a $20M free agent this offseason. That means top free agent players like Fred VanVleet, Joe Harris, Christian Wood, and Montrezl Harrell are going to have to get creative if they want to get paid and play for an NBA team with a chance to win a championship.
While the Raptors, Nets, Pistons, and Clippers have Bird rights to sign VanVleet, Harris, Wood, and Harrell, the Pistons are the only team that is likely to offer a market value contract to their talented young free agent. That opens the door for the Lakers and other playoff teams to steal one of these young stars by offering their team the opportunity to get something back via a sign-and-trade instead of losing the player for nothing.
With revenues plummeting due the Covid-19 pandemic and recession, the rich teams in the NBA are just going to get richer and the poor teams poorer. This offseason, the Lakers will be hungry sharks on the prowl.