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Where do the Lakers stand after their trade deadline moves?

A look at where the Lakers stand after a splashy move at the deadline.

Houston Rockets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After reports surfaced that the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t expected to a make move ahead of Thursday’s deadline, they made one of the splashiest moves of the day, shipping Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and Cleveland’s 2018 top-three protected first-round pick.

The Lakers lost two of their top-10 leading scorers, most notably Clarkson, who is third on the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game, while the Cavs injected some youth into their veteran team while getting rid of a disgruntled player in Thomas.

It’s too early to declare winners and losers in the trade, as we have learned over the past year with players thriving in their new environments around the league, but on the surface, both teams look like winners in this one.

Let’s take a look at where the Lakers stand after their blockbuster deadline trade.

A bittersweet farewell

The Lakers had to say goodbye to Larry Nance Jr. and Clarkson, two fan favorites who have spent their entire careers to date with the purple and gold. Selected with No. 27 and No. 46 picks, respectively, Nance and Clarkson shattered expectations in their combined seven years with the Lakers.

Acquired on draft night in 2014, Clarkson made the most of his opportunity when his number was called at the tail end of a brutal season for the Lakers. His play in the month of March earned him Rookie of the Month honors, making him the first player in Lakers history to receive that honor since the NBA started awarding during the 1981-82 season.

Clarkson’s strong finish to the season would earn him All-Rookie First Team honors ahead of 16 of the 17 guards taken ahead of him, including Zach LaVine, Marcus Smart, Dante Exum and Nik Stauskas, all of whom were taken in the lottery. The other guard on that All-Rookie First Team was Elfrid Payton, who was traded for a second-round pick at the deadline.

Clarkson only trails the No. 2 pick in the draft and 2014 Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, in total points despite being third in total minutes played. Again, this is the No. 46 pick we’re talking about.

Nance was also impressive in his three years with the Lakers.

When the Lakers selected him with the No. 27 pick, it was widely believed to be a reach, especially with college stars like Kevon Looney, R.J. Hunter and Montrezl Harrell still on the board. But it only took a few games into his career with the Lakers for him to become a fan favorite with his high flying act.

Little did fans know that was only the beginning of what would be seasons filled with poster jams like this one:

... and this one:

... and this one:

... and most recently, this one:

Nance will have the opportunity to put on a show one more time in front of the city that has watched him blossom into the NBA player he is today at the dunk contest in Los Angeles on Saturday, Feb. 17.

While I’m sure they’ll miss sunny Southern California, especially during the harsh winters in Cleveland, Clarkson and Nance will get to play postseason basketball for the first time in their young careers, and there’s a good chance they make a deep run with the Cavs’ revamped roster. Regardless, they’ll have more than a handful of fans on the West Coast.

The Isaiah Thomas experiment

The name “Isaiah Thomas” doesn’t have the same ring to it as it did just under a year ago. Thomas hasn’t looked like the player that finished fifth in MVP voting at the end of the 2016-17 season since returning from a hip injury that kept him sidelined for nearly eight full months.

Thomas has averaged 14.7 points per game on a woeful 36 percent shooting from the field and an even worse 25.3 percent shooting from behind the arc in his 15 games as a Cavalier. That’s a far cry from last season, when he had a true shooting percentage of 62.5 percent, the highest among point guards in the NBA.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

On defense, he’s exactly what you expect a 5-foot-9 point guard would be, but this year he’s been historically bad on that end of the floor. According to StatMuse, Isaiah Thomas’ defensive rating of 118.6 is the worst defensive rating in 25 years and as such, is the worst in the NBA among players averaging more than 27 minutes per game.

Saying he has been “bad” would be a gross understatement, but there’s reason to believe a change of scenery is going to benefit the two-time All-Star.

For starters, Thomas is somewhere he wants to be, which is not something that could have been said during his brief stint in Cleveland. Thomas’ body language on the court and actual verbal language off the court was bad and it caused problems in the Cavs’ locker room (get well soon, Kevin Love).

Now in Los Angeles, Thomas is somewhere he’s been outspoken about wanting to be since late-2014, according to this Grantland Q&A with Zach Lowe.

I heard you had a strong interest in signing with the Lakers.

Yeah, I did.

But they had to wait out Carmelo and LeBron. And now there’s a lot of talk about players not wanting to play with Kobe. What appealed to you about the Lakers?

First off, it’s the Los Angeles Lakers. Who wouldn’t want to play for them? Second off, I felt like they always needed a point guard — a small guard like myself. I always envisioned myself playing with the Lakers, but like you said, they were waiting on Carmelo and other moves. The Suns came out of nowhere and showed a lot of interest, and I fell in love with them.

Four years later, Thomas will finally get the chance to wear the purple and gold and he’s reportedly “ecstatic.“

With the Lakers, Thomas will get the chance to slowly rediscover the magic he had in Boston without the pressure of being the starting point guard for the reigning Eastern Conference finalists. While a sixth man role might not sit well with his agent, it’s what’s best for him right now. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka also expect him to play alongside Lonzo Ball.

In the event that he does find success in Los Angeles, the Lakers have his bird rights and can re-sign him on a value deal this summer. If he continues to trend in the wrong direction, the Lakers can renounce his rights and let him walk in free agency. No harm, no foul. Hopefully.

Looking ahead to the summer(s)

What if I told you the Lakers didn’t trade two of their key young players because they loved Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye?

The motivation behind this trade was clear when they made it; the Lakers, as they have stated many times this season, want to clear as much cap space for this summer and the summers to follow in hopes of landing a max free agent or two. The pick the Cavs attached, which as of today is projected to be in the low-20s, was just gravy.

In acquiring Thomas and Frye, the Lakers got two expiring contracts worth approximately $13.7 million combined. Once their contracts come off the books this summer, the Lakers will have roughly $47 million to play with, including Julius Randle’s $12.4 million cap hold.

If the Lakers find themselves in a position to sign two max free agents, they would have to renounce Randle’s rights and use the stretch on Luol Deng, giving them a grand total of $70 million in cap space. That’s enough for two max contracts, like LeBron James and Paul George, and a veteran shooter, which they desperately need.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It also gives them plenty of room to take on bad contracts for draft picks and assets should they strike out in free agency again. But with the power to sign not one, but two superstar free agents in a market where money will be hard to come by, I would be surprised if they left the summer empty handed.

Did I mention the Lakers got a first-round draft pick in a year they don’t have their own first-rounder? Well, they did.

Who’s got next?

This trade opened up a window of opportunity for guys like Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant to show their stuff.

Nance Jr., in his final few weeks with the Lakers, spent a lot of time at the backup center position. With Nance gone, Zubac and Bryant will battle for what’s left over of the minutes currently split up between Brook Lopez, Randle and Kyle Kuzma.

Channing Frye could get also get into the mix here, but seeing as he is an expiring contract and (I’m guessing) not a part of the Lakers future plans, I don’t expect him to have a huge role with the team.

The Lakers also have an open roster spot they will look to fill in the buyout market, which is expected to be more rich in talent than it has been in years past. While guys like Joe Johnson, who is reportedly expected to be bought out by the Sacramento Kings upon arrival, probably won’t give the Lakers a look, players looking to re-gain some value like Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad, who the Lakers were rumored to have interest in this summer, might.

Needless to say, the Lakers aren’t done making roster moves, and this was just the next step in a multi-phase plan.

All stats are courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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