The Los Angeles Lakers desperately need an infusion of youth, athleticism and depth. Given their cap situation, they need to acquire all those things cheaply too.
Normally the NBA draft would provide the Lakers with the perfect opportunity to replenish their roster, but L.A. does not own a first-round pick in 2013, nor a second-round pick in 2014 or any picks at all in 2015—so it will be a while before the Lakers can acquire the cheap young assets they covet.
That is, unless they can swing a draft-day deal that lands them additional picks. Here are three potential trades that would net them an extra selection in Thursday night’s draft.
1. Pau Gasol to Cleveland for Nos. 31 and 33
The Cleveland Cavaliers are perhaps the only team ideally suited to trade for Pau Gasol. They possess enough cap room to simply absorb Gasol’s contract and only send back draft picks to compensate the Lakers.
That’s perfect for the Lakers, because if they’re going to get rid of Gasol—whose contract expires after the upcoming season—they don’t want to take back any long-term salary (especially not enough to match Gasol’s costly deal) and muck up a cap sheet that will look pretty clean in 2014.
Armed with two early second-rounders in addition to their own pick at No. 49, the Lakers could grab three young players to bolster a rotation filled with holes. If they draft shrewdly, one or two of those players may even contribute as soon as this season.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, owner Dan Gilbert has made it clear that he wants the Cavs to win right now. Trading for Pau Gasol would give their underwhelming frontcourt a massive jolt and relieve the heavy offensive burden Kyrie Irving must shoulder on a nightly basis.
As long as Anderson Varejao remains healthy, a front line consisting of he and Gasol would rival any in the Eastern conference. Also, with their big-man rotation secure, they could eschew making a decision on using the No. 1 pick to take either Nerlens Noel or Alex Len and instead trade down and select someone they’re more comfortable with—and someone who could help them immediately—like Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter or Anthony Bennett.
Plus with Gasol’s contract expiring, Cleveland would only be taking on short-term salary and would be able to jump back into the free-agent frenzy next summer, when their top prize—LeBron James—hits the market.
Giving up two second-rounders is a small price to pay, especially when they own two first-round picks in this draft and could pick up another pick should they decide to trade down from No. 1.
2. Jordan Hill to Boston for Courtney Lee and No. 16
In Boston, the Celtics are poised to blow everything up and start from scratch. A major hindrance to that plan is all the cap-clogging long-term deals Boston recently handed out to the likes of Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee.
Lee may be the biggest albatross of all. He is still owed over $16 million through 2016, and he did not seem to fit in with the Celtics at all last year. His 11.7 PER was the lowest of the four cap-cloggers and the second-worst mark of any Boston rotation player.
In order to get out of his deal and clear cap space for their rebuilding project, the Celtics have to dangle an asset along with him. In this case, it’s the No. 16 pick.
Getting back Jordan Hill saves the Celtics nearly $2 million this season and millions more going forward because Hill’s contract expires next summer—a full two years before Lee’s does.
Also, Hill would actually help Boston immensely on the court. The Celtics are in sore need of a big man who can bang down low and rebound the ball.
So why would the Lakers do it? Well, first of all they would have a shot at an impact player with the 16th pick in the draft. And really, that’s reason enough to part with a (admittedly useful) bit-part player on an expiring deal.
Los Angeles lacks depth, shooting and defensive ability on the wing. Lee fits that role perfectly. He’s secretly one of the best one-on-one wing defenders in the league and hit 40 percent of his threes in three of his first four seasons.
Although Lee’s contract still has three years remaining, L.A.’s cap sheet is so clean after 2014 that his cap hit of around $5 million doesn’t hurt. Plus, he’s only 27 years old and still has the potential to live up to the deal and really become an integral part of the Lakers’ future rotation.
3. Pau Gasol to Chicago for Carlos Boozer and No. 20
Similar to the Celtics, the Chicago Bulls would like to get out from under Carlos Boozer’s onerous contract—one that runs through 2015. And again, in order to move it they need to dangle a carrot for another team to bite.
Gasol represents an upgrade over Boozer, and his contract expires a year earlier. Slotting Gasol next to Joakim Noah and a returning Derrick Rose would strike fear even into the heart of the Miami Heat.
After making a run at a title in 2014, Gasol’s contract comes off the books (along with Luol Deng’s), and all of a sudden Chicago is a major player in free agency next summer.
In this instance, the Lakers would be the side more hesitant to accept the terms.
In fact, this deal would never materialize unless there was a player that the Lakers brass was absolutely enamored with sitting there at No. 20. If a top-shelf talent slips to that spot (Shabazz Muhammad?), L.A. may feel that an extra year of Boozer’s salary is worth eating in order to secure a guy who can help the team immensely in the long-term.
Besides, it’s not like Boozer is a stiff. He quietly put up 16 and 10 last season and often served as Chicago’s primary option on offense in Rose’s absence. His game revolves around pick-and-pops, face-up jump shots and mid-range catch-and-shoot opportunities. That sounds like a player who can fit in next to Dwight Howard.
Boozer will never be a great defender, but you don’t spend three years under Tom Thibodeau without learning sound fundamentals for team defense.
The main drawback, of course, is that extra year on Boozer’s contract. It would clutter up an otherwise clean cap sheet post-2014 and knock the Lakers out of the free agent market next summer.
That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, though. There are a lot of big-name free agents to be had in 2014, but how many of them are realistic possibilities? Many are too old to be real targets (Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan), and as for LeBron James, well, it’s a nice thought anyways.
Instead, the Lakers can focus on re-negotiating Kobe Bryant’s contract next summer so that they’ll have max room in 2015 when Boozer comes off the books. That’s when they can pursue a more viable option like Kevin Love.
Without knowing what the future holds, this deal would be tough to pull the trigger on. Just remember, it's contingent on there being a player the Lakers are in love with being there at No. 20, and the Bulls not sending it somewhere else (they are rumored to be ready to give it to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Thomas Robinson).
Then, and only then, does this trade merit serious consideration.