For months now, the Los Angeles Lakers have made clear that they have no interest in orchestrating a sign-and-trade for free agent Dwight Howard. The Lakers want Dwight for themselves, and they are confident of re-signing him, but the main reason why sign-and-trade deals have not publicly even been acknowledged as a possibility at this point is that the Lakers have set up their roster and payroll to free up massive amounts of cap space in 2014. Almost any sign-and-trade deal would require the Lakers to take on salary in return for Dwight that would throw a wrench in those plans. Mitch Kupchak is even on record as saying that the Lakers want Dwight to re-sign, but that their second choice is just to let him walk and clear even more payroll from the books.
As we’ve pointed out a few times before, maintaining cap space is important for a few reasons: One, the only way to bring in the kind of free agents you need to win championships is to be able to pay them the max contracts they are worth. Two, the repeater clause of the luxury tax penalty is severe enough that even teams like the Lakers can’t afford to be well into the luxury tax year after year after year. For both of these reasons, a sign-and-trade under any but the most perfect of circumstances doesn’t make sense.
Who woulda thunk the perfect circumstances might actually exist after all. Just a short while ago, Mark Stein tweeted that Golden State’s meeting with Dwight Howard went well enough that they have forced their way into the conversation to sign the star center. Any scenario that would end up with Howard in Golden State would have to be done via a sign-and-trade because the Warriors are already above the salary cap. And why, despite all the reasons I mentioned or linked to above, should the Lakers consider a S&T with Golden State? Because the W’s have the perfect combination of assets to give Los Angeles.
Any (serious) offer from Golden State to pry Howard away will contain two things: Some combination of Klay Thompson and/or Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut. Bogut is an injury prone center whose arm (and therefore his offensive game) never really recovered from a horrific shoulder injury suffered a few years back. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are both extremely promising perimeter players, and both would fit in delightfully to a roster intending to play basketball the Mike D’Antoni way.
The most important factor of all, however, are their salaries. Andrew Bogut is set to make $14 million next year, and that is way too much money to pay for a center with his injury issues and offensive limitations. But, his contract only runs through next season, which means including him in any trade for Dwight Howard will not hurt the Lakers’ future payroll issues (though it may make it difficult for LA to get under the luxury tax threshold next season). As for Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, both of them are dirt cheap because they are both still on their rookie contracts and (this is the best part) will remain so through 2015. Having Klay Thompson (or Harrison Barnes) on the Lakers roster won’t keep the Lakers from making a run at LeBron James in 2014. It won’t keep them from making a run at Kevin Love (or whoever else) in 2015.
According to reports, a version of this offer has already been made to the Lakers, though only one of Thompson and Barnes were included. As of now, the Lakers are still not interested, because they still want Dwight to remain in purple and gold. But, for all their protestations about not wanting to do a sign-and-trade deal that allows Dwight to leave Los Angeles, a deal with Golden State has to seem somewhat appealing. At the very least, a sign-and-trade with the Warriors is the only possible deal I’ve seen that would be better for the Lakers long term than to just let Dwight Howard walk away for nothing.