At the time of the deal, there wasn’t much love for the front office for dumping a promising third-year player. However, with a few weeks of hindsight, and most of the 2017 offseason behind us, it’s fair to reconsider if the Los Angeles brass actually made a good trade.
The point of this isn’t to suggest that the Lakers were somehow vindicated by Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma’s spectacular play in Las Vegas, which theoretically made Russell expendable and added more value to the package the team received. Or even that Los Angeles wouldn’t have been able to sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope without making the deal.
Rather, looking at the dearth of cap space in league, we can consider if the Lakers did well to shed Mozgov’s salary when they did and if the transaction was a fair exchange of assets.
To do so, let’s compare the Brooklyn deal to three other ostensible salary dumps that took place in the last month.
The L.A. Clippers cleared cap space to acquire Danilo Gallinari in a trade by sending Jamal Crawford to the Atlanta Hawks. Crawford is 37 years old, a net negative on both offense (just barely) and defense (quite significantly) last year, and was owed $14.25 million in the coming season as well as $3 million in 2018-19. In order to move Crawford, the Clippers also sent Diamond Stone - their 40th pick in the 2016 draft - and a 2018 first-round pick from Houston that projects in the late 20s (similar to the picks that the Lakers acquired from the Rockets in 2015 and 2017).
The Miami Heat got rid of Josh McRoberts’ $6 million salary by sending a 2023 second-round pick to Dallas. His contract expires after this season. There is no protection on Miami’s pick.
DeMarre Carroll is set to make a little over $30 million over the next two seasons. In order to escape luxury tax hell, Toronto moved Carroll, their own lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick, and the lesser of Orlando or the Lakers’ 2018 second-round picks to Brooklyn.
The Lakers unloaded three years of Mozgov’s contract valued at about $48 million by attaching D’Angelo Russell. The Nets sent back one year of Brook Lopez and the no. 27 pick in the draft, which became 2017 Summer League championship game MVP Kyle Kuzma.
Since the majority of the assets exchanged were draft picks, it’s useful to compare the quality of those assets using Kevin Pelton’s draft trade value chart. For calculation purposes, Stone and Russell will be assigned the value of a current No. 40 (480 points) or No. 2 pick (3250 pts), even though that likely overestimates their worth (apologies to all the D-Lo fans out there). The other picks will be designated based on the Las Vegas over-unders for 2017-18:
- Houston 2018 first-rounder: No. 28 pick (1040 pts)
- Miami 2023 second-rounder: No. 45 pick (370 pts) (there’s really no indication how good Miami will be this far in the future, so this is an average second-rounder)
- Toronto 2018 first-rounder: No. 25 pick (1170 pts)
- Orlando/Los Angeles 2018 second-rounder: No. 39 pick (500 pts)
- If we combine losing Russell with gaining Kuzma, the Lakers gave up about the equivalent of a no. 8 pick (2160 pts)
Doing the math, the Clippers surrendered 89.4 points of draft capital for every $1 million of salary shed. The HEAT gave up 61.7 points/million, the Raptors 55.6 points/million, and the Lakers 45 points/million.
The lesson, as always, is Doc Rivers is a terrible GM.
Without considering that Los Angeles also received Lopez in the deal, the Lakers got the best bang for their buck. They managed to surrender the fewest assets relative to how much salary the Nets took on. It’s hard to predict what the market would have been for Mozgov’s deal in the coming offseason, but it’s also hard to deny that the Lakers acquitted themselves well in the deal they chose to make.
Ultimately, the jury is still out on whether Los Angeles should have parted ways with Russell, and if the front office should be credited with the dumb luck of having KCP fall into their laps. How much the Lakers improve this season with Lopez and Caldwell-Pope won’t justify the deal.
But if we’re evaluating the transaction itself, the new regime of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka did a decent job. That’s a good place to start.