If it felt to you like the Lakers were actually going to trade for Buddy Hield on Thursday, you weren’t the only one who felt that way. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that there was “momentum” towards the trade being completed immediately after Montrezl Harrell opted in to the second year of his contract with the Lakers.
That trade still needs to be agreed upon, but there's been momentum toward its ultimate completion, per sources. https://t.co/9W4KRY0YXg— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 29, 2021
10 minutes after that tweet, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Lakers and Wizards were “engaged” on a trade for Russell Westbrook that would include both Kuzma and Harrell. Within the next three hours, the deal was done.
Insiders and those of us at home weren’t the only people watching the events unfold who were surprised, however. Jason Jones of The Athletic reported that “league sources said all the players involved in the much-discussed Lakers-Kings deal expected that trade to happen” in his story on the Hield trade falling apart:
Imagine being Buddy Hield and having people congratulating you on becoming a Laker and having the chance to play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Or being Kyle Kuzma with a chance to be a starter again under the coach you were the most productive under, Luke Walton, escape being the Los Angeles scapegoat and have a chance to shine.
Or Montrezl Harrell, who opted into his $9.7 million option with the idea of joining the Kings, where he has a good friend in assistant coach Rico Hines, and was going to be a featured part of Sacramento’s bench — unlike last season with the Lakers when he would go from key player to DNP-CDs.
And Jones isn’t the only insider reporting as much. Zach Lowe of ESPN said on his eponymous podcast, “The Lowe Post,” that “almost everyone that I could talk to that was involved in the potential Buddy Hield/Kings trade was kind of blindsided when it fell apart at the end.”
a couple of tidbits on the Lakers from Lowe: pic.twitter.com/kcJ3lXIGT6— The Lakers Review (@TheLakersReview) July 30, 2021
On its face, that obviously does not sound great from the perspective of the Lakers making sure to let players know what’s up, but there is also some larger possible context here. While it’s possible that the Westbrook deal really did come together this quickly and will not involve the Kings and/or Hield at all, this is also exactly what the teams involved would have to project to make sure the NBA didn’t break up a possible three-team deal.
Last offseason, the Milwaukee Bucks and Kings came to terms on a sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic. Why is this relevant to the Lakers’, Kings’ and Wizards’ situations? Because the Bucks and Kings leaked that they had done so four days before free agency, leading to the Bucks getting docked a second-round pick and the transaction getting blocked for tampering.
So if, in theory, the Lakers, Kings and Wizards had come to some sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge agreement on a multi-team deal that involved sending unrestricted free agent Dennis Schröder to the point guard-hunting Wizards, they had to quickly leak a legitimate trade that the money worked on for Westbrook, meaning that Kuzma and Harrell are being directed to the Wizards... at least for now.
But NBA salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan broke down how the deal could be expanded legally once free agency begins on Aug. 2 for HoopsHype:
One possibility is trading Schroder straight up for Hield. An $18.6 million starting salary matches Hield’s $23 million salary. Anything higher reduces his outgoing salary to $15.5 million due to Base Year Compensation. The Lakers could include Alfonzo McKinnie on a partially guaranteed amount if Hield’s likely incentives upon being traded to the Lakers require a bit more salary matching. However, the Kings don’t have a fit for Schroder for the type of salary he could command.
More realistically, the Lakers can get Hield if this trade for Westbrook with the Wizards gets expanded into a three-team deal with the Kings. Schroder would still have to be involved likely at that $18.6 million starting salary amount, but he can be rerouted to the Wizards or a fourth interested team. Connecting the dots, perhaps the Kings could get still get Kuzma or Harrell while the Wizards get Caldwell-Pope, Schroder, and McKinnie.
I’m not saying that that’s necessarily what is going to happen here. All I’m saying is that if it was what was going on, and all this was an attempt to keep such a possibility hush hush and avoid the ire of the NBA, this is exactly the idea these teams and players would be trying to sell until free agency opens up and they can legitimately expand the deal to include players like Schröder, and to avoid having the league break up their deal with a tampering investigation.
The simplest explanation is still that the deal for Westbrook just came together rapidly and the trade will be completed as is, even if some of the players felt blindsided. But does it really feel likely that the Lakers would blindside not one, but two Klutch sports clients in Harrell and Caldwell-Pope? The same Pelinka who has been lauded by players for letting them know exactly what’s up when they’re being shopped in trade negotiations?
So until the trade is called in and made official, it’s at least theoretically still possible that Hield could end up in a Lakers uniform. Jones reported that “the Kings do not have an imminent deal to move Hield” yet, and so even if a three-way trade isn’t already agreed to, these teams could still legally make it happen in a few days. It’s complicated, and would require Schröder to work with the Lakers, but as Gozlan outlined above, it’s still very possible under the rules in a few days.
But of course a deal would never be agreed to already. Because obviously, NBA teams would never tamper. Obviously.