In January, I reported that the Lakers had trade talks with the Kings, who offered Nemanja Bjelica and a pick to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, and Los Angeles countered by asking for Bogdan Bogdanovic. L.A.’s pursuit hasn’t stopped. On Friday, The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Eric Nehm reported that the Lakers are pursuing a sign-and-trade for Bogdanovic, who’s sign-and-trade deal to the Bucks fell apart. League sources confirmed the report: The Lakers are indeed pursuing Bogdanovic, though the Hawks are considered the favorites.
The Kings may not have wanted to trade Bogdanovic to the Lakers before the deadline, but now they don’t have much of a choice. The alternative is losing him to the Hawks (or another team with cap space such as the Knicks), to an offer sheet that’s more than they’d like to spend, multiple league sources say. Of course, the Kings could match any offer sheet he receives. But they just drafted a guard in Tyrese Haliburton, gave $163 million to De’Aaron Fox, and still have a disgruntled Buddy Hield. Maybe, just maybe, the Kings would be better off taking KCP and Kuzma even if it means helping their interstate rivals get better.
Now, as with all leaks, there may be a motivation behind this. The Lakers have long been used as a bogeyman around the league, and this could be an attempt to send a shot across the bow of the Hawks to get them to really pony up on an offer sheet for Bogdanovic in order to keep him from trying to get to the Lakers. (It is also worth noting that there have already been reports that Bogdanovic is expected to sign an offer sheet with the Hawks, but nothing super concrete yet).
But the Lakers’ interest in Bogdanovic is also clearly very real at this point, and after Pelinka and Co. shocked the world (and, reportedly, the Clippers) by getting Harrell on the mid-level exception, we really can’t rule them out for any free agent — even restricted ones like Bogdanovic — until they put pen to paper. That is doubly the case in Bogdanovic’s situation, because at this point we shouldn’t believe he’s really going anywhere until he actually does.
It’s no secret that Kuzma had his best years under Luke Walton, who’s currently the Kings’ head coach. It’s also no secret that they have mutual respect for each other. Kuzma was one the first players to thank Walton when the Lakers parted ways with him last year.
Would Bogdanovic be a definitive upgrade on Caldwell-Pope, given what the Lakers need? He would likely be a downgrade defensively, but he does have a reputation as a better shooter — although he shot worse from three (37.2%) than Caldwell-Pope (38.5%) last season — which would follow the pattern (along with Harrell and Dennis Schröder) of the Lakers looking to upgrade their offense on paper this offseason.
With Dennis Schroder (18.9) and Montrezl Harrell (18.6), Lakers have the top 2 bench scorers from last season. Per Elias, Lakers are 2nd team to have the top 2 bench scorers from previous season. The ’01-02 Suns had Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk. Starters first tracked in 1970-71.
This also may not just be about choosing between Caldwell-Pope and Bogdanovic, either, given the way negotiations with the former are going as of right now:
Sources: Both the Lakers and free agent guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are interested in getting a deal done, but it is now a numbers’ game. KCP looking for raise from the $8.4 million he opted out from.
The Lakers need to make sure to fortify their guard depth, and if Caldwell-Pope wants a payday and Bogdanovic just wants to be a Laker, this may not be a real choice, and the Lakers may have to just get the guy who wants to be here.
Maybe Caldwell-Pope comes back, and maybe he doesn’t, but until something is agreed to, the Lakers have to explore all their options. The good news is, by sniffing around Bogdanovic, it appears they’re doing exactly that. Such due diligence and coming up with alternative plans is all anyone hoping the team can retool for a repeat can ask for.