Magic Johnson's First Deal (6/21/17)
The new Lakers' General Manager, Magic Johnson, is already shaking up the team. The Lakers have decided to trade Timofey Mozgov and D'Angelo Russell for the Nets' Brook Lopez. Mozgov, who will make $15M in salary next year, is a throwaway in this deal. Simply put, Mozgov isn't a good player as he's ranked towards the bottom of the league in efficiency metrics for centers for the last two seasons. If the Nets plan to play him with starters minutes, I wouldn't expect that to last when they witness first-hand how poor of a player he has become.
D'Angelo Russell is the most lucrative piece in this deal for a number of reasons. He has high potential as a 21-year old point guard with two full seasons of experience. However, Russell showed little improvement from his rookie to sophomore year. His two seasons were nearly mirrors of one another, and his efficiency metrics would agree. The previous second overall pick is not a plus player or point guard with a less than average BPM, RPM, and traditional metrics. We should expect him to improve as he gains experience; but, the question of how much improvement is a risk the flailing Nets are willing to take. No move, trade, or improvement is not going to allow the Nets to take on any team that LeBron James plays on. Thus, their only options are to sign LeBron James or plan for the future. D'Angelo Russell is a small step towards the future.
Brook Lopez is a plus player and quite clearly the best player in this deal. If Magic Johnson's goal is to compete this year or in the near future, he's made a fine deal. Magic can be sure Lopez is a better than average and has improved over the last season. Lopez, now a frequent three point shooter after attempting only a handful throughout his career prior to this season, has adapted to the new NBA style. On those shots, Lopez compiled a 34.6% three point shooting percentage. As his game has moved drastically towards the perimeter, Lopez's post presence has predictably been diminished as he contributed nearly two less rebounds per game than his career average. Per ESPN's RPM rating, Brook Lopez ranked 7th last year in efficiency for centers and 5th overall in wins.
The other side of a trade deal, outside of the players, is the money. Lopez will make $22M next year which conveniently is offset by Mozgov's $15M and Russell's $5M upcoming salaries. Mozgov's contract at 4 years, $64M was truly horrendous; however, Magic Johnson found a way to wiggle his way out of it by trading away a decent amount of potential with a previous second overall pick. After the move, both teams still rank towards the bottom of the NBA, and there is little either can do to improve their standing in the league. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine Magic is done making moves if his goal is to somewhat compete and fill seats in Los Angeles.