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Lakers trading D’Angelo Russell was 1st step in attempt to get Paul George and LeBron James

It’s not a pretty move now, but it wasn’t made for the present.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Lakers traded 2015’s No. 2 overall pick, D’Angelo Russell, to the Brooklyn Nets along with Timofey Mozgov, for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The move was the first in what should be a busy couple of years coming up for the Lakers.

The move did a few things for Los Angeles. While they lost a young talent who hadn’t quite panned out the way they’d hoped immediately, it’s a longer-term play than anything, for a few reasons.

The Lakers are making a push for Paul George and/or LeBron James

Before moving Mozgov’s contract (three more years and $48+ million after this year), the Lakers would not have had enough cap space in 2018 to sign a max free agent. Now, the entire outlook has changed.

The Lakers can now sign Paul George, who specifically told the Indiana Pacers he wants to play for them. While they could wait for him to become a free agent, that would be a risk given he could play for and want to stay with another team this upcoming season. The Lakers are still exploring a trade for George now, with other teams (including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics) rumored to be making a move for him. The Pacers would certainly be happy to deal, because otherwise they’d just lose him for nothing.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that the No. 27 and 28 picks, along with either Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson, could be pieces in order to secure a deal for George.

The trade could help make enough room for another max salary slot, with the cap projected to be $101 million:

That’s where LeBron James comes in. On The Vertical Podcast with Woj, Adrian Wojnarowski said that James re-signing with Cleveland wasn’t a sure thing.

“Not only is there no guarantee he’s coming back, I’m not sure there’s an expectation he’s re-signing there,” Wojnarowski said. “I think they feel, I think within Cleveland and around the league, they feel that he’s very much in play to leave again and likely head out West to one of the two L.A. teams. The Lakers could very well be a target.”

Wojnarowski added that since James won his title in Cleveland, he doesn’t feel an obligation to stay because he did what he returned to do. He’s also a resident of Los Angeles, where his children are now enrolled in school.

Along with all of this, the Cavaliers parted ways with GM David Griffin on Monday, whom James tweeted support for. Between that, and Jerry West — arguably the best recruit the NBA has ever seen — joining the Clippers, the Lakers have recognized now is the time to act. While we’re at least a year away from another Summer of LeBron, it’s not inconceivable that he could join the Lakers.

So what else does this trade mean?

They are likely going to draft Lonzo Ball

They didn’t need a backcourt consisting of both Ball and Russell. Russell’s development in Los Angeles was a nightmare thanks to Byron Scott and the Kobe Bryant farewell tour. Sure, they could have made it work with Russell as a combo guard, but Russell’s resume wasn’t as attractive as Ball’s ceiling.

Now the path has been paved for Ball’s name to be called No. 2 overall on Thursday. Ball worked out with the Lakers twice, and has been linked to the team since he made his way to UCLA. He’s a native of Los Angeles, and averaged 14 points and 7.6 assists under Steve Alford.

His first workout with the team didn’t go well. Yet a second workout, combined with the trade that just went down, makes it look like becoming a Laker is in the cards for him.

They are dumping a terrible contract for a bad one that’s shorter

The Lakers signed Timofey Mozgov on July 1 just past midnight ET last offseason on a four-year, $64 million contract. He was due another $48 million over the next three seasons, which is not ideal for any team considering his 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this past season.

While the Lakers took on Brook Lopez and the $22 million-plus he is owed next season, it’s something the Lakers can work with. They’ll have that off their books for the summer of 2018, which will be the next time LeBron will be a free agent.

They will be paying Lopez over $7 million more next season than they’d be paying Mozgov, but it’s worth it to avoid the $32.7 million they’d have to pay in the following two seasons. The trade undoubtedly says more about how bad Mozgov’s contract was than their opinion of Russell.