No Klay in L.A.: What is the Lakers' next move?



More than 24 hours into free agency, armed with LeBron James’ willingness to take less than a maximum salary should the Lakers find worthy use for their midlevel exception, and the team has yet to make any moves of note.

While the Lakers did agree to re-sign Max Christie ahead of the opening of free agency, when teams can negotiate with players from other teams, the Lakers’ roster crunch and salary-cap situation have kept them from making any moves.

The Lakers’ pursuit of Klay Thompson ended Monday with the four-time NBA champion leaving Golden State to accept a sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks.

The team’s next step could be to pursue free-agent wing DeMar DeRozan, an elite midrange scorer and playmaker without the qualities as a point-of-attack defender and three-point shooter that made Thompson the Lakers’ priority. It’s unclear how serious interest would be from either side.

The Mavericks reportedly agreed to a contract with Thompson for three years and $50 million. And while some people with secondhand knowledge of the negotiations between the Lakers and Thompson believe he was offered more years and more money by the Lakers, the team would’ve needed to execute a sign-and-trade deal to create that space. If not, the most the Lakers could’ve offered him was the full midlevel exception, which could be for four years beginning with a starting salary of $12.8 million — provided James’ next contract with the Lakers allows for them to use that exception.

If the Lakers are unable to make meaningful moves with that exception, James is expected to sign for the maximum.

In Dallas, Thompson will be the starting small forward next to Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving for a team that played in the NBA Finals last season.

Thompson, who turned 34 in February, played 77 games for Golden State last season, averaging 17.9 points while shooting 38.7% from three-point range. It was his second full season after sitting out two-plus years because of a knee injury and a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Thompson grew up a Lakers fan and a Kobe Bryant disciple, telling The Times while in high school, he used to linger in the Staples Center loading dock just to wait for a brief interaction with his favorite player.

“My favorite part of the night was going down to the tarmac to see him leave, just so I could say, ‘Hey,’ to him and see what he was driving, what he was wearing, how he’s walking,” Thompson told The Times in 2021. “Those were just such fond memories for me, being in the Staples Center parking lot.

“Him just knowing my name was enough for me to tell people he was my ‘good friend.’”

Thompson became an unrestricted free agent after 13 seasons with the Warriors, where he formed on half of the “Splash Brothers” with his backcourt mate Stephen Curry.

One of the best shooters of his era, Thompson also was one of the league’s top defenders until he suffered a serious knee injury during the 2019 NBA Finals. During his recovery from that injury, he ruptured his Achilles, costing him another season.

In the 178 games since his return, Thompson has averaged 19.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting nearly 40% of his 9.7 three-point attempts per game.

But last season, the Warriors struggled and it became clear their plans for Thompson didn’t fully align with his plans. The Warriors moved him to the bench for the first time since his rookie season. Instead of offering him a maximum contract extension, Golden State was ready to give him two years and $48 million ahead of last season, according to reports. He declined.

The Lakers’ lack of flexibility can be tracked to last summer when the team used player options to entice three minimum signings — Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish. All three picked up their player options, as did starting point guard D’Angelo Russell.

The team added rookies Dalton Knecht and Bronny James during the NBA draft, leaving them with only two roster spots leading into free agency. Christie took one of those spots by staying with the Lakers while the other belongs to LeBron James, once he signs his new deal.



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