The Lakers’ decision to trade for Russell Westbrook will have lasting implications on the team’s salary cap over the next two seasons past his own salary. With Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined making over $120 million next season, the Lakers were left with few options for filling out the rest of the roster.
The result was a host of veteran’s minimum contracts, using the majority of their taxpayer midlevel exception on Kendrick Nunn and retaining Talen Horton-Tucker in a bigger, longer deal. Because of that, the Lakers will struggle to make many in-season trades without larger salaries to aggregate together.
All of that makes the latest rumor about the Lakers’ interest in Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb interesting. The veteran guard had an injury-riddled 2020-21 season and enters this year in the final year of his contract, set to make $10.5 million. According to J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, the Lakers are reportedly among multiple teams that have an interest in him with Indiana looking to offload him:
Now that the Pacers acquired Caris LeVert for Oladipo in a trade last season and added more wing depth with No. 13 pick Chris Duarte, there’s no room for Lamb. He’s in the final year of a three-year deal that pays him $10.5 million.
According to league sources, about four teams have expressed interest in dealing for Lamb, including the L.A. Lakers and Charlotte Hornets.
In 36 games last season, Lamb averaged 10.1 points on 43.5% shooting from the field and 40.6% shooting from the 3-point line. As noted, though, his season was sporadically interrupted with injuries, including missing the first 13 and last 18 games, including two play-in games, for the Pacers.
Because of that, as Michael reports, the Lakers and other suitors are waiting on Lamb to show he is fully healthy again before more aggressively pursuing him.
The caveat, of course, is similar to what happened with Oladipo before he was traded to Houston a month into last season. He had to show he had bounced back from injury before a favorable deal could materialize for the Pacers. They’d planned to trade him for a while, but they couldn’t score a player of LeVert’s quality for Oladipo until then.
The same goes for Lamb, who has to play again and look healthy before a team commits to him. That his contract is expiring adds to his value.
The issue with this for the Lakers is the lack of contracts available to trade for Lamb. First, a deal would not be able to be completed until mid-December when players signed this summer can be traded again. In theory, that wouldn’t be a problem as the Lakers are in a wait-and-see state with Lamb.
The problems arise with formulating a trade package. The only one-for-one deal the Lakers could make would be Lamb for Horton-Tucker. Considering the Lakers held Horton-Tucker out of trade discussions for Kyle Lowry, it’s a non-starter to think they would turn around inside of a year later and deal him for Lamb.
At that point, a trade would require the Lakers to cobble together multiple salaries, Nunn a necessity as one of them, to even make the money work in a deal. The more names added, the less likely the Pacers will make a deal as 3-for-1 swaps are uncommon for role players like Lamb, especially in-season. Similarly, three-team trades could come into play but those are even more complicated to project.
Ultimately, this feels like a leverage ploy by either the Pacers or Lamb’s agent to include the Lakers and drive up his trade value. There may have been a time in the build-up to the offseason that the Lakers showed interest in Lamb, but that almost certainly went away with the Westbrook trade.
The interest in Lamb may remain for the Lakers, but their ability to acquire him is far more complicated. If Lamb hits the buyout market, which seems unlikely, the Lakers would certainly be in line for him. Outside of that, it’s hard to see a feasible way the Lakers land Lamb this year.