Most of the coverage of that transaction has (justifiably) focused on the Lakers giving up on Russell, or the team’s desire to clear Mozgov’s salary to gear up for a pursuit of LeBron James or whatever.
Gone ignored in all of this are the basketball merits of the deal, mainly because there aren’t many basketball reasons (shouts to David Stern) for a team trading arguably its most promising young player for salary cap relief and a late first-rounder.
That doesn’t, however, mean there were zero basketball reasons for the deal. Lopez’s contract was unmistakably the main target here, but he can still play a little bit too.
The former No. 10 pick in the 2008 draft averaged 20.5 points and 5.4 rebounds for an absolutely awful Nets team last season, and according to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers like his range as well (emphasis mine):
Lopez has one year left on a contract that will pay him $22.6 million during the 2017-18 season. That was part of his draw, as was his ability to stretch the floor. Lopez shot more three-pointers than any other center in the league last season, averaging 5.2 per game and making 34.6% of his three-point attempts.
Wait, he shoots threes? NEVER MIND, THIS IS A GREAT TRADE. SHOWTIME IS BACK THE LAKERS HAVE EMBRACED MODERN BASKETBALL WOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
In all seriousness, if Lopez can actually space the floor for a spacing-starved Lakers team that just shipped out it’s second-best shooter and will likely lose it’s best, Nick Young, to free agency this summer, the Lakers will need every ounce of shooting he can provide.
Shooting a nearly league-average 34.6 percent on 387 attempts after shooting just 31 threes in his CAREER prior to 2016-17 is nothing to sneeze at, and could help Los Angeles on the court next season, in addition to Lopez’s help on the cap sheet next summer.