Isaiah Thomas LeBron James
LeBron James #23 an Isaiah Thomas #3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers argue a call with referee Bill Spooner #22 during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Quicken Loans Arena on Jan. 2, 2018 in Cleveland. Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have their eyes on free agency, hoping to pair two superstars with their roster of young players. With just a few hours remaining until the 2018 NBA trade deadline, L.A. has made a deal that will allow them to add two max salary players in the summer.

The Lakers are sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Cleveland's first-round draft pick, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. While the deal might improve the Cavs’ chances of getting back to the NBA Finals, it gives Los Angeles the ability to add LeBron James and another free agent, possibly Paul George, in the offseason.

For months, there have been rumors that L.A. would be James’ No.1 destination if he decides to leave Cleveland after the 2017-2018 season. Now that the Lakers have shed the contracts of Clarkson and Nance and added Thomas’ expiring contract, they’ll have the flexibility to sign two stars to max salary contracts.

That doesn’t necessarily mean James is headed to the Lakers. Perhaps he’ll stay with the Cavaliers, or maybe even join the Houston Rockets, who are the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors. It’s a poorly kept secret that George has wanted to play for the Lakers, though there are indications he will re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But L.A. is now at least in play to sign James and another star, a position they weren’t in before making the trade. The deal comes on the heels of an ESPN report that said the Lakers had changed their plan and instead set their sights on 2019 free agency because of their salary cap situation.

The move doesn’t do much to help the Lakers this season, who are on their way toward missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year. The Cavs hope the move helps them get back to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive season.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Cavs acquired Thomas from the Boston Celtics. Cleveland traded for the point guard in the summer when they sent Kyrie Irving to the team they defeated in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. Thomas has played just 15 games with the Cavs this season after coming back from a hip injury.

Thomas has looked like a shell of the player that finished fifth in the 2017 NBA MVP voting. Clearly affected by the injury, he’s scoring just 14.7 points per game on 36.1 percent shooting from the field. Cleveland has allowed 118.6 points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the floor, giving him the worst defensive rating in the last 20 years.

Cleveland went 7-8 with Thomas in the lineup. They are currently the No.3 seed in the East.

Clarkson should be a helpful addition to Cleveland’s backcourt, which has been a grave disappointment with poor seasons from Thomas, Derrick Rose and J.R. Smith. The 25-year-old is averaging at least 14.5 points per game for a third straight season.

Clarkson is under contract for two more years, set to make $12.5 million in the 2018-2019 season and more than $13 million in the 2019-2020 season.

In his third NBA season, Nance is averaging career highs with 8.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, shooting 60.1 percent from the field. He’ll make a little more than $2 million in the third year of his rookie contract next season.

There have also been rumors that the Lakers could trade Julius Randle, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. Wojnarowski has reported that L.A. has rebuffed offers of a second-round pick in exchange for the forward.