Sources: Lakers active in trade talks with Kyle Kuzma’s name most prominent among 5 players

Anthony Irwin
5 Min Read
Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers are still working the phones hard, trying to find trades to improve the roster. Rob Pelinka understood heading in they would be extremely limited in free agency, and after striking out with Klay Thompson and others, is now focused on upgrades using D’Angelo Russell’s expiring contract and the draft capital at his disposal, according to sources close to the situation speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Los Angeles would like to attach some of its veteran minimum contracts in these talks so as to open up roster space and figure more productively in free agency than it has. With LeBron James agreeing to a max or near-max contract Wednesday morning, the Lakers will operate above the first apron and consider the second apron a hard cap internally, sources say. As such, they could use the taxpayer mid-level exception, worth $5.2 million.

Sources say the Lakers have held trade talks with the Portland Trail Blazers about Jerami Grant, the Brooklyn Nets about Cameron Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith, the Toronto Raptors about Bruce Brown and the Wasington Wizards about Kyle Kuzma — as well as other teams and other trade targets. To this point, though, those are the names most closely linked to the Lakers, according to league and team sources.

In each case, however, talks have hit a snag over draft compensation. In all of these negotiations, some combination of Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt, Gabe Vincent and Jalen Hood-Schifino have figured heavily.

Portland, according to those close to the situation, is demanding two first-round picks for Grant. League sources cite his contract and potential reluctance to take on a lesser role on a winning team as concerns for why the Lakers and other teams haven’t wanted to meet that price.

Brooklyn wants a first-round pick for Finney-Smith, according to sources, and are a little more flexible on Johnson because of his contract and injury history.

Toronto picked up Brown’s team option for $23 million with the intent to move him this summer and are asking for a first-rounder as well. Brown’s contract expires after this season.

Washington just last season came very close to trading Kuzma to the Dallas Mavericks but wound up keeping him once Kuzma let it be known he didn’t want to be in Dallas over concerns they weren’t close enough to winning a championship. Unfortunately for him, Dallas played in this year’s championship series. League and team sources have maintained over the last year or so that Kuzma would welcome a return to Los Angeles, just as the Lakers would love to have him back.

Among Portland, Brooklyn, Toronto and Washington, sources close to the team say talks have been most productive with Washington.

Joe Cronin has developed a reputation as a strict negotiator who will not move off his price. This is best evidenced by his standoff last summer with Pat Riley that eventually saw Damian Lillard go to the Milwaukee Bucks instead of the Miami Heat.

In Brooklyn, Sean Marks is fighting against the current after trading Mikal Bridges to the New York Knicks. Yes, the intent is to move everyone, according to league sources, but they also want to get fair value back for their assortment of role players. Marks’ phones have been busy and he’s used that as reason to not move off his initial asking prices.

Masai Ujiri has developed a reputation of his own as one of the best executives in the league. One doesn’t get to that point by losing very many negotiations, and on multiple occasions, he and Pelinka have stared each other down and eventually pushed away from the table.

Those close to the team do say that Washington has at least shown interest in negotiating and feel conversations to this point have been more productive. Whether that will lead to an actual deal is another thing altogether, though.

In all of these situations, talks are one compromise away from taking that next step. For the Lakers, the sooner that happens, the better, as they’ll have work to do in free agency as well.

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Anthony has spent the last decade-plus covering the Lakers either in written, audio or video form. He has written previously on the TrueHoop Network, Fansided and SB Nation. He founded Locked on Lakers, currently hosts Lakers Lounge and produces other podcasts for Audacy and 247Sports. His latest venture has been news breaking, which he looks forward to doing for Lakers Daily.