Lakers walking a dangerously thin line with interest in decorated champion

The Los Angeles Lakers are competing to acquire one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. It's a dangerous approach that must be executed to perfection.
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a race to acquire the services of a four-time NBA champion. On the surface, that's an exciting sentence to write or read, as a championship pedigree alone is often worthy of an investment.

In the curious case of Klay Thompson, however, there's more than meets the eye—and that makes a potential deal one without a margin for error.

Thompson, 34, has played for the Golden State Warriors since he was drafted by the franchise in 2011. After 13 years, however, he's entering free agency with no restrictions and four championship contenders vying for his services.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that Thompson will now meet with the Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Philadelphia 76ers as he weighs his options in free agency.

As confirmed by Shams Charania of The Athletic, any potential Thompson acquisition will be made via sign-and-trade—meaning assets must go out to bring the future Hall of Famer in.

Acquiring Klay Thompson would mean losing key Lakers

Wojnarowski has since reported that LeBron James called Thompson at the start of free agency to discuss a potential team-up. James has also informed the Lakers that he's willing to take a pay cut if it helps the team clear space to use the full mid-level exception.

It doesn't change the fact, however, that the Lakers would be tasked with sending out matching salaries if Thompson is unwilling to sign for that mark of $12,822,000.

In the event that Thompson signs for the mid-level exception, then the concerns are null and void. He would be a bargain addition who would bring one of the best jump shots ever to a team that ranked 24th in three-point field goals made and 28th in attempts in 2023-24.

It would be one of the great steals of the 2024 period of free agency, and would mitigate the risk that comes with signing a 34-year-old wing with a history of serious injuries.

In the event that Thompson wants more than the MLE, however, the Lakers would need to orchestrate a sign-and-trade. That means losing some of the talent that's already on the roster, with D'Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura looking like prime candidates based off salary alone.

One could argue that Thompson brings more value than Hachimura or Russell, but there's reason to question that statement at this stage of his career.

Thompson missed the 2019-20 and 2020-21 injuries due to a torn left ACL and a torn right Achilles tendon. He then missed 50 games in 2021-22, but has managed to remain generally healthy over the past two seasons at 69 and 77 games played.

Thompson remains one of the best shooters in the NBA, but it's worth noting that he knocked down a full-season career-worst 38.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this past season.

That's still better than a vast majority of NBA players, and would help the Lakers immensely. It's fair to question if the 34-year-old is facing an inevitable downswing in terms of his quality of play, however, which makes his fit with the Lakers a bit more roster-dependent.

In theory, an elite sharpshooter could help Davis and James, who both ranked in the top 10 in points in the paint in 2023-24—but how much value can he bring if there's pressure to score in bunches on a nightly basis?

The development of Austin Reaves thus becomes one of the biggest focal points of the Lakers' offseason—and the reason he should be untouchable in potential trade discussions. If Reaves can emerge as a legitimate third option, then Thompson can pick his spots and potentially rediscover his form on defense.

If Thompson can't conserve energy for defense, however, then this move would be the epitome of a high-risk, high-reward acquisition.