In Thursday’s trade deadline frenzy, the Lakers made out like bandits. Since their preseason three-team trade with the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets was vetoed for “basketball reasons,” many people have been wondering what the Lakers are going to do now. It all came to a head by the trade deadline.
The first trade was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Lakers traded Jason Kapono, Luke Walton and a draft pick for guard Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga. This was met with celebration from the Lakers fan base. Then, the next trade happened, which made sense in light of the first.
Lakers legend Derek Fisher was traded to the Houston Rockets along with the other first round draft pick that was acquired in the Odom to Dallas trade. In return, they got 24-year-old Jordan Hill, who picked eight overall in the 2009 draft.
In a press conference with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak following the trade deadline, he made comments about why they picked the players. About Ramon Sessions, he said:
We think Ramon of the three would make the immediate presence. We felt we needed more speed and quickness in the backcourt.
As for Hill, Kupchap said:
Jordan Hill is a young promising big man. He’s going to have to work and he's going to have to beat out the guys on this team to prove that.
Eyenga is going to play for the Defenders in the D-league to start. This is a realistic way for the Lakers to be thinking, and the game last night against the Minnesota Timberwolves proved that.
Hill did not dress and Sessions did not start, however, Sessions did play, making his first shot as a Laker.
There are five big reasons why these trades make the Lakers better.
It’s no secret the Lakers were an old team. Not anymore. With Fisher (37), Kapono (31), and Walton (31) gone, they have lost players who are past their prime. In return, they received a 24-year-old and a 25-year-old in positions where they needed them.
Kobe Bryant, while putting up amazing numbers, is no longer as fast and defensively able as he once was. This means the Lakers needed some players to build around the young star Andrew Bynum (also 24 years old).
What the Lakers management did was create a team for the future while still finding pieces to compliment the championship line-up they currently have. This is a team that can make a run at the championship this season and for years to come.
While Derek Fisher is a fixture in Lakers history and lore, he’s well past his prime and amongst the least talented starting point guards in the league. He averages 5.6 points a game, 3.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists. While he still showed the ability to be clutch at times (such as his last shot he took as a Laker), his overall play was a detriment to the team.
Also, Luke Walton has not performed well on the floor despite the fact that he’s a multi-championship winner and NBA veteran. He hasn’t started for them in years and averages seven minutes a game, in which he averages 1.3 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.6 assists. Sessions averages ten times that, while Eyenga, who will be starting with the Defenders, comes out at about even.
The acquisition of Jordan Hill gives the Lakers some breathing room at center. While Bynum has been a beast on the court lately, he is one injury away from the Lakers not making the playoffs. Hill, while young and fairly inexperienced, has the talent to back up the big man if need be and give the Lakers a little breathing room.
When Bynum goes out, Gasol is the natural option to play center; however, the Spaniard is falling into his stride within coach Mike Brown’s new offense. Hill gives the players and coaches some room to move them around and also to give Bynum a break (he’s been playing nearly the full 48 minutes recently).
With the new CBA, the Lakers would have to pay dividends in the luxury tax, which charges teams $3.25 per $1 over $5 million above the salary cap. Luke Walton was set to make $5 million this year and $6 million next, and Fisher had a $3.5 million player option.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Portland Trailblazers didn’t want Fisher in a trade for Jamal Crawford because they were nervous he would opt into the contract next year.
Mitch Kupchak said in his press conference,
"We’ve been over the luxury tax for as far back as I can remember… [Jerry Buss will] continue to look to make acquisitions, but certainly the financial aspect of this business can’t be ignored… and you take that into consideration…. You take into consideration the new rules."
So, with these younger, inexpensive players, the Lakers didn't sacrifice skill and cut back on their payroll, which saves them money to possibly land other players in the future should management decide to do so.
The Lakers haven’t given up anything they needed. Fisher was a questionable starting point guard, Walton was little more than a minutes man, and Kapono was picked up in the offseason and served his purpose (which ultimately was making the Lakers better by trading him).
They did give up two first round draft picks, but one cannot be used in the first 14 picks, and with the team they currently have, they don’t need to improve drastically anywhere. Mitch Kupchak addressed the concerns with giving up the draft picks in what is slated to be a stacked draft:
"I think we’re a more balanced roster. We had too many small forwards… we only had four front court court players… in terms of the draft picks, I don’t think we could have found a player like Ramon Sessions."
The Lakers are a championship team, which means that some players may be hungrier than others. When Metta World Peace (then, Ron Artest) came to the Lakers, he took a pay cut because he wanted to to win it all. These young players are hungry to win and willing to learn from some of the game's best, namely Kobe Bryant.
This was evidenced by Jordan Hill's interview last night in the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. While he was courtside in a suit, Hill was nearly speechless about being on the Lakers.
In an interview on the Mason and Ireland show on 710 ESPN, the radio duo interviewed Cavaliers Sideline reported Jeff Phleps. He had some interesting things to say about Sessions.
"He never gets winded. All he does is play hard... He attacks the basket like crazy."
With the exception of Kobe, there aren't many players on the Lakers who you can say "attack the basket like crazy." The Lakers need hard-working, young players who have the ability and drive to win a championship, and that's what they got with this set of trades.