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Henry Liao

NBA: Russell, Howard Traded

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The first major off-season transaction struck by new Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Earvin (Magic) Johnson Tuesday is not geared for the 2017-18 National Basketball Association (NBA) season but rather for the summer of 2018.

In a cost-cutting move, the Lakers shipped guard D'Angelo Russell and center Timothy Mozgov to the sad-sack Brooklyn Nets - who finished with the NBA's worst record this past campaign at 20-62 - in exchange for the Nets' one-time All-Star center Brook Lopez, sophomore-to-be swingman Caris LaVert and their 27th overall selection (which originally belonged to Boston) in the 2017 NBA draft on June 23 Manila time (7:00 a.m.) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

(The Nets agreed to swap first-rounders with the Celtics this year as part of the July 12, 2013 trade involving Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.)
The 7-foot, 29-year-old Lopez, who was born in North Hollywood, California, is in the final year of his three-year Nets contract worth $22.64 million in 2017-18 - which frees salary cap space for the Lakers in the summer of 2018 to go after a prominent free agent.

Russell, a shoot-first, pass-later point guard, has a year remaining on the original three-year rookie-scale deal he inked with the Lakers as a No. 2 overall choice in the 2015 NBA draft.
The Lakers were not about to pick up the option on the rookie pact of the 6-5, 21-year-old Russell in 2018 and probably has an insurance anyway with the drafting of UCLA playmaker Lonzo Ball with the second overall in the college grab-bag on Friday.

El-Ay, which also owns the No. 28 overall choice (via Houston) and now the No. 27 pick following the trade with the Nets for back-to-back selections, has a plethora of backcourters with Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young still under contract.

The 7-1 Mozgov, who turns 31 next month, has three years left on the four-year, $64-million he signed with the Lakers as a free agent last summer.

However, the Lakers shut down a healthy Mozgov for the remainder of the 2016-17 season in mid-March - along with another high-priced free-agent acquisition last summer in 6-8 forward Luol Deng - officially to give the majority of playing time over the final 15 games to the team's younger players but more for "tanking" to secure a higher draft position with their frigid 26-56 record.

The 32-year-old Deng, signed to a four-year, $72-million deal under the unlamented regime of former Lakers president Jim Buss - elder brother of Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and now-deposed general manager Mitch Kupchak - is also a "white elephant" and may be moved as well during this off-season.

With Russell, Mozgov out and Lopez's contract to expire in a year's time, the Lakers will have around $64 million in salary-cap room in the summer of 2018 to go after two maximum-contract free agents.

Could one be Cleveland's Lebron James, who seem disgruntled after the team opted not to renew the contract of general manager David Griffin, whose deal expires on June 30. The King still is under contract with the Cavs for the 2017-18 wars but can opt out of the final year his three-year pact with Cleveland.

James' wife Savannah wants to live full-time in Los Angeles, where they have a house there. Scuttlebutt has it that James may depart for either of the teams in the LA area and that the Clippers recently pried The Logo Jerry West away from newly-minted NBA titlist Golden State for an identical executive consultant post to lure James to the team.

And what was before purely speculations is fast becoming a reality in the case of Indiana's Paul George. George has already declared that he won't renew ties with the Pacers once his contract expires in July 2018. A native Californian, the 6-8 27-year-old wingman has two years and $40.2 million left on his contract but could option out after the 2017-18 seasons.

Rather not get any compensation if he eventually walks away, the Pacers have opened trade talks with the Lakers, George's preferred destination, this early.

A deal for George could be struck before the NBA draft.

Meanwhile, it was also announced yesterday that Atlanta is jettisoning over-the-hill center Dwight Howard after just one season with the Hawks along with their first pick in the second round of the 2017 NBA draft (No. 31 overall, via Brooklyn) to Charlotte for the Hornets? Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the club?s 41st selection overall.

The 6-11 Howard, who turns 31 in December, has two years left on a three-year, $70.5-million pact he inked with his hometown Hawks in July last year.
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