The San Antonio Spurs' rebuild is off to a strong start, thanks in part to the front office, which has been aggressive in making trades. These trades have put the team in a great position, and there are four picks in the 2022 NBA Draft to show for it.
Contrast that with their former rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, who’ve been dealing away their picks like they're playing franchise mode in NBA 2K. It's fair to say that's come back to bite them after they missed the playoffs this year -- especially now that they're seemingly stuck with former league MVP-turned-$47 million albatross Russell Westbrook.
It's not all on Westbrook, however. Some of the blame pie goes to Anthony Davis, who can't stay healthy, forcing the team to rely on a 37-year-old LeBron James to carry them. In fact, the Lakers entered this season with the oldest team in the NBA. They also struggled to shoot and defend, ranking 22nd in 3-point percentage and 21st in defensive rating.
Obviously, they need to get younger, add more shooting, and improve their defense, all while having no cap space and very few picks to trade. That's where the Spurs could come into play. They have plenty of picks as well as cap space, and could look to take advantage of the Lakers and their lack of draft picks.
There are a few ways for the Spurs to fleece the Lakers. One way is to sell the 38th pick to the Lakers for cash. Teams can send out up to $5.7 million in a trade, and the Lakers have taken advantage of this in the past to essentially buy a second-round pick.
The Lakers have done this twice, including sending $2.2 million to the Orlando Magic in 2019 for the draft rights to the 46th pick, Talen Horton-Tucker, and they could do it again. The Spurs have too many picks, so dealing the 38th selection makes sense, leaving them with a more manageable three first-rounders.
Additionally, the Spurs could command at least $3 million for that pick, and the Lakers might be desperate enough to pay to re-acquire their own pick. Hilarious. The downside to that trade is that it wouldn't help the Spurs on the court. Actually, the money would basically be going to things like operating costs, which is why small market teams are usually the ones selling picks.
Another option would be to trade the 38th pick to the Lakers in exchange for their 2025 second-round pick as well as the 2023 second-round pick from Memphis. The latter probably wouldn't make for a very good asset, but the Lakers' 2025 pick might.
After all, James will be 40 by then and may not even be a Laker, Westbrook is certainly gone after next season, and Davis' injury issues probably won’t get better in his 30s. There's the possibility that that selection wouldn't be as high as 38, but it could still be good and allow the Spurs to basically defer the asset.
If the Lakers are in the market for a first-round pick, the Spurs would also be the team to call. The most probable scenario would be a deal where the Spurs trade the 25th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft to the Lakers for a protected 2027 first-rounder. The deal would give the Lakers some much-needed young talent while the Spurs can continue building for the future (while avoiding having to pay three first-round talents in 2022-2023).
The Lakers' 2027 pick is the earliest first-rounder they can trade and the two teams could agree to the pick being lottery-protected in 2027 and top-12 protected in 2028. Given that the Lakers have only missed the playoffs in consecutive years four times in 74 seasons, it seems like a safe bet that that pick will convey. If it does, then the Spurs could have an extra fist-round pick when they're good again, which should come in handy.
Ultimately, the Lakers may need their former rivals to help them out of a bind, and the Spurs actually might if the price is right. After all, the Spurs need to consolidate their four picks in this year's draft and the Lakers desperately need young talent. As a result, the two teams could make for ideal trade partners, with the Spurs being able to take advantage of the Lakers' lack of draft picks.