The Lakers got an off-court victory last week when they finally traded Russell Westbrook at a cost of only one of their two future first-round draft picks.
They sent away their 2027 selection (top-four protected), but they were able to retain their 2029 pick, which is something that some insiders thought would not have been possible in shedding Westbrook. After this season Los Angeles will either swap 2023 picks with New Orleans or retain their own, giving them two firsts that can potentially be moved prior to this summer's draft.
In the meantime, the Lakers now have three good players (D'Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley) who will give them at least a fighting chance to make the playoffs this season, which, on paper, doesn't have to be a total waste anymore, without committing guaranteed future money to any of them.
Russell is on an expiring deal. Beasley has a $16.5 million team option. Vanderbilt is only guaranteed $300,000 as long as he is waived by June 30. The Lakers could trade him before that; even if they keep him, his $4.7 million 2023-24 number isn't terribly punitive, particularly for a player as useful as Vanderbilt.
In other words, the Lakers still have the ability to clear at least the $47 million that would've come off their books with the expiration of Westbrook's deal, leaving them with something north of $30 million in cap space. On the other hand, they also have the Bird rights to sign Russell and Beasley if they see them as building blocks, with those two aforementioned picks to further solidify the roster.
Long story short, the Lakers avoided essentially forfeiting this season by paying one future pick. It's a very valuable one, potentially. But worth the price to give LeBron James and Anthony Davis some real help. It's going to go a long way for Darvin Ham not have to play these tiny three-guard lineups anymore.
Vanderbilt slots as a brick-solid defender against scoring wings and a roaming disruptor. Beasley is streaky but at times an elite 3-point shooter, something the Lakers desperately need. Russell, meanwhile, is having the most efficient shooting season of his career and can obviously assist LeBron with half-court creation.
Do these guys make the Lakers a true contender? My instinct is to say no, but I'm not ruling it out. These are good players. More importantly, they fit with James and Davis, unlike Westbrook, who was a fish out of water from the minute he put on a Lakers uniform. You give James and Davis a functional, well-suited supporting cast, and they can do real damage.