Time is slipping away fast for the Los Angeles Lakers. Changes are necessary if they want to play postseason basketball, and the NBA trade deadline represents their final shot at bringing in outside help.
There are three main needs the Lakers must address. None of them will come as any surprise, as they are areas that have been discussed all season as team weaknesses.
We all know Mike D'Antoni emphasizes the three-ball. In fact, every team D'Antoni has coached for a full season finished in the top-two in three-pointers attempted, save the 2007-08 Suns, who were fifth.
The Lakers are following that same blueprint, having hoisted the third-most triples of any team in the league this season.
Though they shoot it a ton, their accuracy from deep is wanting. The Lakers are smack in the middle of the pack (15th to be exact) when it comes to three-point shooting percentage.
While this may not seem overly significant, there has been, historically, a strong correlation between the success of D'Antoni's teams and their success in this particular category.
Consider: D'Antoni has led five teams to the playoffs. Those five teams finished no worse than eighth in three-point accuracy. As a matter of fact, all four of his Suns teams led the league in that department. Only the 2011 Knicks (by far his worst playoff team) failed to top the NBA, finishing eighth.
Meanwhile, the three times D'Antoni has failed to qualify for the postseason, his teams finished no better than 19th in three-point percentage.
As you can see, the Lakers are in the middle but far closer to the teams that missed the playoffs, and wouldn't you know it, their place in the standings reflects that.
The Lakers are trending in the wrong direction, too. After hitting over 37 percent of their threes in October/November, they regressed to 35.4 percent in December and failed to connect on even 34 percent of their treys in January—a mark that would rank 25th for the season. And that's with a full month of Steve Nash, by far their top three-point marksman.
Pure shooting isn't the only issue. Spacing is also a concern. As wonderfully gifted as Pau Gasol is, he's a mediocre floor-spacing big at best, and that role clearly does not suit him well.
Mike D'Antoni covets a stretch-four to create more room for the Lakers' lethal pick-and-roll game. Now may be the time to explore trades to bring one to LA.
Basketball-Reference.com has the Lakers 20th in their defensive efficiency ratings. That's not conducive to postseason success.
Obviously, one new player isn't enough to boost that ranking to championship level. Dwight Howard is a case in point. But adding a certain type of defensive skill can cure some of what ails this team defensively.
Pau Gasol is too sluggish and Antawn Jamison is too much of a sieve to adequately help-and-recover on pick-and-rolls.
Bringing in another big man who is mobile and plays with sound fundamentals would go a long way towards fixing a broken screen-and-roll defense. According to Synergy Sports, the Lakers are 24th in the NBA in points allowed per possession to the roll man in pick-and-rolls.
Synergy also has the Lakers ranked 24th in points allowed per possession on isolation plays. In particular, opposing point guards and small forwards have had their way with them. They give up the most points out of any team in the league to each of those two positions, per 82games.
No wonder the Thunder have been a nightmare match-up for the Lakers the past couple seasons. With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant leading the way, they fit the profile of a team that can give LA fits.
Adding another capable wing defender can cut down on the damage done by opponents on isolations.
Depth has been a concern for years now with the Lakers. The current edition is overly-reliant on the five guys who were projected as their starters coming in to the season.
Despite two of those five players (Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace) having combined for 13 appearances off the bench, the Lakers still rank in the NBA's bottom five in bench points, according to HoopsStats.
Also, every Laker besides those top five who has played at least 10 percent of the team's total minutes presently sports a negative plus-minus figure, per 82games.
Finding someone who can anchor the second unit and keep the Lakers afloat when multiple starters sit down will keep the team from having such a severe drop-off between starters and reserves.
Should the Lakers make a trade before the NBA trade deadline?
We've heard all year that the Lakers are old and slow. It's shown up on the court too, as they have struggled to keep up with the quicker and more athletic teams around the league.
Here's where trading a proven All-Star commodity like Pau Gasol for lesser parts may actually work to LA's advantage.
In one fell swoop they can get younger, deeper and faster. And if they find the right deal they might even be able to check off their other needs at the same time as well.