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Could Brandon Ingram be an option for the Lakers?

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Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans
Photo by Tyler Kaufman/Getty Images

After missing out on the initial wave of free agency, could the Lakers pivot to old friends in Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans for a trade?

The days and hours leading up to free agency really seem to set the Lakers up for something big. D’Angelo Russell opting into his contract opened up lots of trade options and LeBron James’ willingness to take a pay cut opened up lots of free agency options.

And yet, here the Lakers sit on July 8 without any changes to the roster. The team’s free agency targets turned them down and the trade options haven’t materialized, whether due to the new CBA or the lack of interest in Russell and the other Lakers on the trade market.

The Lakers are operating as a team without a sense of urgency, which makes sense in some ways. They just hired a first-time head coach and have spoken about player development. But so long as you have LeBron James on the roster, you’re competing for a title.

So, where do the Lakers turn from here? While LeBron ended the free agency flexibility — something the market also ended as well — there are still trade options available. And one very interesting name could be old friend Brandon Ingram.

The Pelicans are at a crossroads with Ingram. He’s entering the final year of his deal and is seeking a four-year max at $208 million. But with New Orleans unwilling to make that commitment, the belief coming into the offseason was the two sides would be parting ways via trade.

But, like the Lakers, New Orleans has not had a successful offseason navigating that path. On Monday, Will Guillory of The Athletic wrote a piece about the Pelicans' lack of options to make a trade with Ingram.

While he specifically mentions the Bucks and Clippers as teams to get involved, could the Lakers join them?

One of the key points of the article is that the Pelicans are looking for a big man to pair with Zion Williamson. Right off the bat, that throws a hurdle in the possibility of a Lakers deal. They do not have a legitimate center — Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood are not that — on the roster to trade to the Pelicans.

It doesn’t rule them out completely, though. New Orleans would also likely have little interest in D’Angelo Russell, either, given their roster construction. Re-routing him to a third team for a center could be a possibility.

New Orleans is also likely feeling the pressure. The longer they wait on an Ingram deal, the lower the price gets. Can they afford to go into the season with Ingram in the final year of his deal?

The specifics of the trade could be ironed out, but financially, it’s possible. The Lakers have the draft picks needed, whether to trade or swap, and are familiar with working out big deals with the Pelicans' front office.

This part of the deal would be difficult, as any trade would be. The Lakers would either need to involve a third team to find a center or hope the Pelicans start feeling a little more desperate. This is not to gloss over that, but there are on-court reasons Ingram could make sense, which would be an important factor.

2024 SoFi Play-In Tournament - Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

JJ Redick wants to use LeBron James off the ball more and much of the focus has been on acquiring a point guard to replace D’Angelo Russell in that respect. Ingram, however, offers ball handling from the wing position that could be a solution.

He’s not quite the player he was the last time the Lakers had him. He’s a higher usage player with a much higher 3-point rate, and while he never quite became the defender he had the potential to become, he did blossom into a superb offensive talent.

If you’re looking for someone who can create their own shot and alleviate some of the pressure off LeBron in that regard on top of some playmaking, Ingram can be that guy.

His stock has been on a steady downward trend over the last year after a poor showing with Team USA, followed by another year in which injuries and struggles to fit alongside Zion led to a rocky finish.

Injuries are part of the equation here, too. Ingram played 64 games last season, the most since his rookie year when he played 79. He has had more seasons not reaching the 60-game mark (4) than eclipsing it (3).

But you’re buying low on a player who will still be just 27 years old at the start of next season. You’d have to do so with the understanding that you’d be agreeing to a max extension with him that would pay him $50 million. That’s a tough pill to swallow and it’s going to be really, really tough next season when you already have Anthony Davis under contract. You would likely need LeBron to opt out and do you a solid if you’re the Lakers and take a big pay cut to avoid the second apron.

Maybe that’s the hurdle that’s too large to overcome. The second apron is wildly unforgiving and even if the Lakers would be in it for one season before LeBron retires, that’s a huge commitment.

All of this also operates on a hypothetical of the Pelicans being interested in what the Lakers have. But if we’re to the point where Milwaukee and the Clippers are entering the equation, as Guillory reports, then it’s not hard to believe the Lakers could soon be involved, too.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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