The Lakers set themselves on the path to the 2020 championship with a big offseason trade. Now, they hope the road to the 2021 title begins with another.
The franchise got preemptive on that front this weekend, as they work on finalizing a deal to trade Danny Green and the No. 28 draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for 27-year-old Dennis Schrӧder.
But strap in: Another big swing for a key contributor might be the last meaningful Lakers trade for a while. After using their biggest chips to cash in for Schrӧder, the final flourishes that can make a talented team into a title winner will have to be done in free agency.
Two expected moves over the weekend set the table for the Lakers’ biggest free agent goals: Both Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have indicated they’ll decline the final year of their respective contracts to become free agents (first reported by Yahoo Sports and The Athletic, respectively). As Klutch Sports clients, it is instructive to see them as a package deal.
The Lakers have the inside edge on bringing both back: Davis is widely considered an in-the-bag returner for a max deal, the length of which is largely up to him. Caldwell-Pope’s postseason helped drive up his market value over the $8.5 million he would have made for the coming season, but because he’s been with the Lakers for three years, an NBA collective bargaining exception allows them to go over the salary cap to re-sign him (the only team who can do so).
Those might be relatively easy decisions for Rob Pelinka and the Lakers, but it’s just the start: The team could be replacing Avery Bradley (who has a $5 million player option) and likely will be replacing Rajon Rondo. Dwight Howard is due for a raise, whether that’s with the Lakers or elsewhere, and Markieff Morris is also a free agent. Kyle Kuzma can be extended, if the Lakers want to make an offer before next summer’s restricted free agency. And then they’ll be chasing pieces while trying to stay under a luxury tax line ($132.6 million) that did not rise this season.
That chasing will have to be done in free agency.
Green’s $15 million contract was widely discussed as a potential trade piece last year because of how much he was making: NBA trades require salary matching within a certain percentage. As one of the Lakers’ biggest contracts, Green was the key to any big-name deal, and in the last few weeks, rumors linked the Lakers to players such as DeMar DeRozan using Green’s contract as a key piece.
The other key chip was the Lakers’ No. 28 draft pick, which had limited value to the Lakers who are looking for win-now pieces rather than rookies. But it also represented one of the last draft picks the Lakers have for years to come: In the next five drafts, the Lakers only possess their own first-rounder in 2022 (the Pelicans can swap first-rounders in 2024). They also don’t have their second-round picks for the next three drafts. Getting older is a major concern for a team that has just one regular roster player younger than 25 (Talen Horton-Tucker).
When looking at what the Lakers got by using their capital, it makes sense that they were ready to cash out: Schrӧder is not precisely a third star to the LeBron James and Anthony Davis pairing, but he’s the closest thing to it. He’s a well-established scorer who checks a few boxes at once, able to hit the outside shot (38.5 percent) but also drive off the dribble — both were things the Lakers wanted more of last season — and as he’s entering his final season of his contract, it’s worth a look to see if he can be a dynamic pairing with Davis for years to come.
His upside as a scorer is his most dynamic quality. In the Thunder’s playoff series against the Rockets, Schrӧder scored 29 points in back-to-back games — the only players who did that for the Lakers last year in the playoffs were James and Davis (it is worth noting, however, that Schrӧder’s shooting percentages from 3-point range have dropped to 30 percent each of the last two postseasons).
In other areas, Schrӧder is less steady. While he’s capable of making assists and averaged more than six per game as a starter in Atlanta, his career assist-to-turnover ratio is just 1.93 (Rajon Rondo’s career figure is 2.96). In Los Angeles, he’d have the best offensive teammates he’s ever enjoyed, potentially making him a more potent passing threat, but he has generally taken a score-first mentality.
Defensively, Schrӧder becomes the weakest link in the Lakers’ starting lineup next year. At 6-foot-1, he’s small for his position and doesn’t have a strong reputation as a defender. Given that (depending on who the Lakers bring back/in next season) he could slide into a starting spot alongside Caldwell-Pope, that changes the dynamic of a Green/KCP combination that was defensively sound last season, especially in the playoffs against very dangerous guards. One wonders about the adjustments Frank Vogel might have to make.
It’s also worth wondering how Schrӧder fits in a locker room where Green was a steadying presence. As a veteran of winning Spurs and Raptors teams, Green represented the Lakers well in the hardest of times, and was also the team’s union rep in unusually demanding situations: the bubble creation, the August stoppage, the 2020-21 season turnaround.
Those deficiencies are what the Lakers will have to now reach to other corners of the market to get, trumpeting their win-now mentality and culture in exchange for players willing to take less than elsewhere. Teams with projected cap space this offseason include Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte and New York — teams deep in rebuilds.
But in the margins, the Lakers will be chasing veterans with value to contenders, and even in their own division with the Clippers, the Warriors and now the Chris Paul-led Suns, the competition will be steep. If the Lakers can stay below the luxury tax, they can use a mid-level exception worth $9.3 million (the taxpayer MLE is $5.7 million) that could draw out a useful piece, particularly shooting and defense on the wing where the Lakers could use a replacement for Green.
The biggest benefit the Lakers will have this year as opposed to last offseason is the ability to take off at the starting gun. Waiting for Kawhi Leonard’s decision cost them valuable time in the free agent chase, but this time, expect Davis’ deal to be ironed out quickly and other pieces to settle in fast.
It’s a pace that won’t let up until next July, when the improvised 72-game season ends. Might as well get off to a brisk start.
DENNIS SCHRÖDER AT A GLANCE
SUMMARY: A score-first point 27-year-old guard and ball-handler
WHERE HE WAS LAST YEAR: Oklahoma City Thunder (18.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.6 rpg)
TOP ATTRIBUTES: Off-the-dribble scoring; outside shooting; backup playmaking and ball-handling
HOW HE FITS: Schroder gives the Lakers a needed second option to LeBron James bringing the ball up the court and has more offensive creativity than any of the other supporting cast. He’s a less sure fit on defense, where he has been less impactful in his career. He should be a natural contender for a starting guard spot, sliding in next to either Avery Bradley or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as long as either return, and he helps overcompensate for the expected departure of floor general Rajon Rondo.