Lakers' penny-pinching could make a Spurs trade more likely

Gregg Popovich
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Despite a surprisingly good start to the season, the San Antonio Spurs are beginning to look like the rebuilding team we thought they'd be. The Spurs are currently below 500, and joining them are the Los Angeles Lakers, who are now almost at the bottom of the Western Conference. Those two teams have been linked since the off-season, and recent comments by Lakers head coach Darvin Ham could hint that a deal might be a bit more likely.

"We need to step up and play better," said Ham. "We can’t go out and get people. We are already a repeat tax offender. We can’t spend money to build a team. We already have three big-time, first-ballot future Hall of Famers that a chunk of our budget is spent on and there’s only so much left."

Those comments might not raise eyebrows, but they should. In addition to trying to add shooting, the Lakers are also looking to cut salaries and, by extension, their luxury tax bill. The primary way to do that would be to trade Russell Westbrook for a couple of relatively inexpensive shooters. The Spurs, of course, have a pair of affordable sharpshooters who fit the bill, leading to a potential win-win trade for both teams.

What could a Spurs-Lakers trade look like?

Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson combine to make $25.8 million this season. Compare that to Westbrook's $47 million, and a swap would save the Lakers $21.2 million in salary this season. Of course, the Lakers would have to include picks, and they're dead set on not including both of their tradeable first-round picks.

That isn't necessarily a dealbreaker, though. A top-5 protected 2027 first-round pick and a second-round pick in 2026 and 2027 is a good return for the Spurs, especially given their apparent preference for long-term picks. Getting a first-rounder that's likely to convey, barring the Lakers being particularly terrible, is a good starting point in a possible trade with L.A.

And while two future seconds aren't nearly as good as receiving their 2029 first, those seconds could end up being in the 30s, and they could prove useful for the Spurs. In fact, earlier this year, the Spurs traded a high second-round pick and Thad Young for Toronto's first-round pick, which they used to take Malaki Branham 20th overall in this year's draft.

Would the Lakers agree to the trade?

For the Lakers' part, they'd save the aforementioned $21 million, but factoring in that they're $20 million over the luxury tax threshold, the trade would also take them out of the luxury tax. As a result, they could save a total of $66 million. I'm not a financial adviser, mind you, but the Lakers should probably take any deal that could save them that much money. Aside from the ridiculous amount of money saved, the Lakers would also be adding two 40% 3-point shooters to their roster.

That would be like water in the desert considering they're last in the NBA in 3-point percentage and, by extension, last in the NBA in offensive rating. Better still, McDermott and Richardson wouldn't necessarily be rentals either. McDermott is under contract for next season for $13.75 million, while the Lakers could pay Richardson a similar amount to get him to take a one-year deal to maintain 2024 cap space.

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Ultimately, the Lakers need to cut spending as well as upgrade their roster by addressing their shooting issues. That's a tough ask, but the Spurs can help on both fronts, increasing the likelihood of a deal between the Spurs and Lakers.