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The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers made the deal that send Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a protected first-round draft pick to LA for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from opposite spectrums.
The Cavaliers (31-22), desperate to breathe life into a season that appeared to be on life support, are bringing in Clarkson and Nance — along with George Hill and Rodney Hood, picked up in separate deals from Sacramento and Utah, respectively — to make immediate impacts.
Meanwhile, the Lakers (23-31), even though they are playing well and have won four consecutive games, are taking a big-picture view, with an eye on landing two elite star players in free agency — which could include the likes of LeBron James and Paul George — this summer with as much as $70 million in cap space after Thursday’s deal with Cleveland.
The trade helps the Lakers create more cap space. Thomas ($6.3 million) and Frye ($7.4 million) are on expiring contracts, while Clarkson’s contract has $26.9 million over the next two years remaining.
The Lakers will look to add high-profile, big-name talents to their young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
“I wouldn’t have made the move if I wasn’t confident,” Lakers team president Magic Johnson said Thursday after the trade was announced at the team’s facility. “Still the same [confidence]. We have got to take the next step. I like our core. I love the way Julius [Randle] is playing right now; this is the best I have seen him play.
“But again, we’re still on the outside looking in. No matter how good we’ve been playing, we’re not in the playoffs, we are not one of the top eight teams in the West. That’s just the bottom line. So I don’t want to stay in this position. I want to have us be in the playoffs, and the only path to that is to add to the roster that we already have.”
Johnson doubled down on his position.
“I don’t want to stay where we are. I don’t want to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in,” he said. “We have to take another step, right? So this move allows us to position ourselves to hopefully, take that next step.”
Johnson expects Thomas to have an impact on the Lakers, including mentor rooking point guard Ball, who is out with a sprained MCL.
“We talked to him. He’s so excited,” Johnson said of Thomas. “He said his father was born and raised in Inglewood so he’s really excited, and also right now Zo’s hurt.
“We need a point guard. So especially with that type of experience and the fact that he can score the basketball and pass it, we want to get him in here fast. We told him that. … we need somebody to come in there and lead our troops.”
Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka said cap space can be used in different manners.
“There’s so many different ways you can use that [cap space],” Pelinka said, “And then, of course, the obvious way is we now have in July of 2018 and July of 2019, we now have real 100 percent space to do two max players if that’s what we decide to do, or one in 2018 and then following it up with another one in 2019. So the flexibility is really amazing.
“If you break it down and study the cap, we feel like we’re the most strongly situated franchise in the NBA in terms of where our cap stands.”
While speaking on the West Coast on Thursday, Pelinka pointed East toward the plan the Lakers hope to mimic.
“If you look at teams that are doing really well right now, if you look at the Boston Celtics in the East, they had flexibility to take advantage of a very unique situation that happened in the offseason. We can’t talk about specific players’ names,” Pelinka said (Johnson covered his mouth, a reference to the team being fined twice for violating anti-tampering rules). “They were in a position to take advantage of an unexpected, unique opportunity that has led them to being an elite team. We now are in that position as the Lakers. We weren’t before the deals we made. And those opportunities will come. We know that.
“Let’s face it — in this league, you can’t have an elite team if you don’t have the elite players. So that has to be the strategy if you want to be elite.”