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Trade with Cavaliers gives Lakers financial flexibility to pursue big-name free agents

Tania Ganguli, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

Eight months ago, the Lakers traded Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets, also sending D'Angelo Russell to the Nets in exchange for a package including Brook Lopez, who is on the last year of a deal that pays him $22 million this season.

In the weeks before the deadline, the Lakers checked in on what was available for Deng. But Johnson laughed when asked if he'd had any substantial conversations that would have allowed the Lakers to move on from Deng's contract.

"We wish, huh?" Johnson said.

Intent on getting a first-round pick and expiring contracts, the Lakers entered the days leading into Thursday's trade deadline perfectly comfortable to do nothing if those two elements didn't materialize. Most of their players were available, with the exception of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram.

Rumors swirled about Randle's departure, but the Lakers didn't go far in talks to trade him. Teams around the league were hesitant to give up very much for a player set to hit the market this summer as a restricted free agent.

Not many teams had cap space now or in the future to make such a deal. The Cavaliers were among only a handful of teams interested in acquiring players and contracts. They traded away nearly half their roster, getting younger and more athletic in hopes of winning a championship with James this year.

Neither Nance nor Clarkson was at the Lakers practice facility when the trade happened. Shootaround was set to start about an hour later.

Clarkson, who has been with the team since the start of his NBA career in 2014, heard the news during a joint phone call from Johnson and Pelinka. They wished him luck and stressed that he would have the opportunity to make a playoff run. In a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times, Clarkson called the prospect of a championship run "real exciting." Having spent the last year as the subject of trade rumors, Clarkson was relieved that his future was decided.

"Some of the stuff you don't know if it's true or real," he said. "Just knowing that I'm going to be there is real cool."

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Nance, a late first-round draft pick in 2015, stopped by the facility after hearing of the trade to say goodbye to his teammates and others he worked with there.

"You get close with these guys," Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. "JC and Larry were a huge part of what we've been doing here in the short time that we've been here. ... They've been great teammates taking different roles. We're going to miss them."

Pelinka and Johnson acknowledged the bittersweet nature of the move, saying it was difficult for them and for controlling owner Jeanie Buss.

"Jeanie loves her Lakers and she becomes fond of all the guys and so she's just like her father," Johnson said. "She never wants to trade any of her guys because they're more to her than just players that wear the purple and gold. She got on board and we had a great conference that said, hey, we have to do this deal, for the future of the Lakers, for now and the future."

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