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How Lakers can pair LeBron James, Anthony Davis with a third star

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If this season proved anything about the Lakers, it’s that their roster was simply not good enough to compete for a championship. A lot of blame will be placed on coach Darvin Ham, but the way they were obliterated by the Nuggets shows that the gap between those two teams was about more than X’s and O’s and substitution patterns. 

The clock is ticking on LeBron James’ career, as he hinted at by tweeting an hourglass emoji before the February trade deadline. General manager Rob Pelinka chose not to make any major changes at that time. He can’t afford to do the same this summer.

The Lakers need a huge infusion of talent if they want to truly compete. It won’t be through free agency — they will operate as an over-the-cap team assuming James comes back, giving them no option to bring in a Paul George or James Harden type of haul. 

Trades are the only way to add meaningful pieces back. Speculation has already started on how to get Donovan Mitchell, Zach LaVine, and Trae Young. Here’s what a trade would look like for those players. 

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The Lakers will have a lot more to offer teams this summer than it did during the trade deadline when only one of their future picks was available. 

Here are the picks that the Lakers can move after the draft:

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Mitchell will earn $34.8 million next season and has a player option for $37.1 million in 2025-26. The Cavs are not expected to be a cap space team, so any trade would have to involve salary matching. 

It seemed likely that D’Angelo Russell would turn down his $18.7 million player option before the playoffs started, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Given his struggles, that may have changed. If Russell does opt-in, then his salary combined with Rui Hachimura’s $17.0 million would be a clean way to get to Mitchell’s $37.1 million number. 

The Lakers would have to throw all three of their first-round picks to get a deal like this done. The Cavs are only two years removed from trading three first-round picks, two pick swaps, Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and Ochai Agbaji for Mitchell. They would look to recoup that value.

Mitchell has played extremely well for the Cavaliers. They would need to be bowled over to move him. There is some concern that he won’t re-sign in Cleveland — he will likely turn down his player option and negotiate a new contract as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2025. 

If Cleveland is truly worried about that possibility, then it could get ahead of it by making a deal like this. It would also fix the growing problem of overlapping styles between Mitchell and Darius Garland. 

The problem for the Lakers is that if Mitchell were available, every team in the league would be interested. The Knicks, among other teams, have more picks to offer and could outdo the Lakers’ best proposal. 

The Hawks are 77-87 since trading for Dejounte Murray. Their embarrassing 131-116 loss to the Bulls in the Play-In Tournament clearly showed that the Murray-Young duo isn’t good enough to win anything. 

Atlanta will be aggressive in reshaping its roster. Could it move its lone All-Star in Young? He’s making a whopping $43.0 million next season and has another two years remaining on his deal after that. 

Hachimura and Russell wouldn’t be enough salary to get to Young’s number. The Hawks would surely ask for Austin Reaves in a swap, but that would probably be a bridge too far for the Lakers.

The Lakers could add in 2023 first-round pick Jalen Hood-Schifino, whose salary along with the $3.2 million owed to the No. 17 pick in the 2024 draft would get the deal done financially. They would also need to throw in their picks in 2029 and 2031 to make it worth the Hawks’ while.

A deal for Young will also be tough to get past the finish line. Atlanta does not control many of its future picks after trading them for Murray. Losing Young would guarantee that it would be near the bottom of the league and be giving lottery picks to the Spurs in the process.

A deal for LaVine, on the other hand, would be met with champagne and gift baskets from Chicago.

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