The Los Angeles Lakers are a lunch-bucket group of hungry players, many of whom are auditioning for job security.
And, with the exception of Kobe Bryant, none of them have it yet, just three games into a new season. Some may stick around past this season, but there certainly is a group more likely to get traded before the year is up.
Grabbing an opportunity to remain relevant and possibly thrive in the NBA, a host of young (and not so young) talent signed one- and two-year deals for little money and lots of expectations. Now it will be up to them to make the most of that opportunity.
A host of players, including Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Elias Harris, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Shawne Williams all could be trade bait come midseason; especially if their respective games blossom in the Mike D'Antoni "seven-seconds-or-less", shoot-at-all-costs system.
D'Antoni has a reputation for bringing in unknowns with talent and helping them inflate their previously unimpressive numbers. Earl Clark is a prime example, and look what his up-tempo, high-energy play brought him: a nice two-year, $9 million free agent contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There is no doubt it will happen again in L.A. for a few of these players, and the end result may be an extension contract or a trade to another team in need of instant energy and scoring. In return, the Lakers would like to stockpile a few more draft picks in what is expected to be a decent draft in 2014.
If the Lakers are intent on keeping Bryant on the roster for another 2-3 years, then the thought of trading away Pau Gasol is probably a pipe dream.
A strong season in which he averages 18 or more points and 10-plus rebounds will certainly increase his trade value, and a contender might be willing to pick up his current $19 million contract if he's shipped midseason.
But I wouldn't expect it to happen, not with Kobe saying the team needs to keep the guy he still feels is the best power forward in the game.
With Bryant's return uncertain, there will be a lot of minutes to pass around to the lunch-bucket bench. Trade values will increase along with point totals. Expect management to listen to all possibilities, though they probably won't pull the trigger on more than one or two deals before the season ends in the spring.
What follows is a list of those most likely to get moved by L.A. if the pieces fall into place.
Jodie Meeks is starting to realize his true potential.
Jodie Meeks may have the best opportunity to increase his value under the Mike D'Antoni system.
The 6'4" shooting guard learned a lot last season from playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard and has started the new campaign with more confidence and a better all-around game.
Heading into Friday night's showdown with the San Antonio Spurs, Meeks was averaging 13.5 points on 50 percent shooting, including 44 percent from beyond the arc. He was strong again in Friday's home loss, scoring 14 points in 28 minutes off the bench.
Meeks pulled down six rebounds on Friday, giving him an average of four per contest. In the D'Antoni system, he is feeling more at ease heading to the basket for layups, not content to always wind up and shoot from long distance.
As Mitch Kupchak told NBA.com this past summer after the Lakers exercised its team option on his contract:
Jodie is not only a gifted three-point shooter who helps us space the floor on the offensive end, but he is also a very active and underrated player defensively who continues to work on and improve all aspects of his game. He was an important member of our team last year and we look forward to having him back for the 2013-14 season.
Meeks is just 26 and entering what should be the prime of his career. If he's averaging these same numbers by the All-Star break, there's no question he will float near the top of the shopping list for a number of teams, especially those contending for playoff spots.
Meeks is now battling Nick Young for that backup shooting guard position. As of this week, it looks like Meeks is winning.
The Lakers may have found themselves a diamond in fourth-year shooting guard Xavier Henry. But, he's no longer a well-hidden secret.
Henry literally exploded for 22 points against the Los Angeles Clippers in Tuesday's home-opening, lopsided win. He added another 14 points Wednesday in the Lakers' 125-95 loss to Golden State but went 0-6 Friday and finished with just 3 points.
Henry has been one of the more impressive new players for the Lakers, who were desperate for players following the departure of Dwight Howard and major injury to Kobe Bryant. The former first-round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies was finally given a chance to show coaches what he could do if given time on the court. He is signed to a one-year, $916,000 contract
In addition to a sweet stroke from three-point range, the 6'6" shooting guard is also big enough (220 pounds) to crash the boards (5 rebounds per game the first week in two games) and take the ball to the rim.
While at the University of Kansas, Henry shot 41 percent from three-point range. He may have been wise to stay in school another year or two, but that mistake has only benefited the Lakers.
Known for their reclamation projects—think Shannon Brown, Trevor Ariza—the Lakers will definitely be hearing from other teams about the 22-year-old Henry as the season wears on. But, the better he plays, the less likely they may be to trade him.
In speaking with the Los Angeles Times after the team had crushed the Clippers and bench scored 76 points, Henry sounded like a guy whose time to shine is coming quickly.
We have a lot of young and energetic and athletic guys. When we come in the game, we change the pace, we change the tempo, and we change the outlook of what we do.
Henry is turning some heads with his play and would be a prime target for a midseason trade.
Mike D'Antoni is high on Wes Johnson. He is not the first and Johnson's time to make an imprint in the NBA may be running out.
After defeating the Clippers earlier this week and watching the lanky, 6'7" Johnson match up on defense against the 6'10", 240-pound Blake Griffin, D'Antoni compared him to another slender, small forward he coached who used his quickness to become one of the league's better defenders.
D'Antoni told the L.A. Times: "What coaches have to coach Shawn Marion? That was the experience I had and I told Wesley and that's a lofty goal, no doubt about it, because Shawn is obviously one of the better players in the league—but [Johnson] has a lot of those qualities. He can do that. He can disrupt at the 4."
Originally drafted fourth in 2010 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 26-year-old former Syracuse standout has been anything but in his short NBA career. The Lakers signed him to a minimum contract ($916,000) because D'Antoni likes his defense and athleticism.
Johnson has worked hard this summer to hone his game and says he isn't worried about off-shooting nights, like the 1-11 he experienced against the Clippers. He told the Los Angeles Times: "One of these nights, I [may] have a bad shooting night, but I'm going to impact in some type of way that's going to benefit [the team]. I don't really get discouraged about my shooting."
Johnson makes 40 percent of his shots, including 34 percent from beyond the arc. His goal this year is to improve his long-range shooting and utilize his quickness on offense to attack the rim more often.
Johnson is at a crossroads in his career. By midseason, the Lakers will know if he's worth keeping as a defensive stopper or whether it makes more sense to shop him for some younger talent and/or a draft pick.
Nick Young has yet to meet a jump shot he didn't like. He gives new meaning to the phrase "streak shooter."
The 28-year-old Los Angeles native and USC alum was thrilled to come back home and play for his boyhood dream team. His first week as a starting guard for the Lakers has not been very smooth, but Young will likely continue to shoot whenever and wherever he gets the ball.
It's just his nature. And he can get hot in a hurry, witness the 14 third-quarter points he scored in early October in his first preseason game with L.A.
“He can get on streaks like that,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said to the L.A. Times. “Until Kobe [Bryant] comes back [from a torn Achilles’ tendon], we’re going to need a guy that can throw the ball up at the end of the shot clock and make his own play, and he can do that.”
The Lakers signed Young to a two-year deal ($2.3 million) after a disappointing season in Philadelphia. He signed because it was a chance to play for the Lakers and with Kobe Bryant.
Drafted in the first round by the Washington Wizards, Young played five seasons there and was considered one of the team's premier scorers. He averaged 17.4 PPG in 2010-11 and 16.6 in 40 games the following year before being traded to the Clippers late in the season. He also averaged close to 15 shot attempts per game.
Nick Young is a natural scorer—he once poured in 43 points against the Sacramento Kings and has had numerous games of 20 and 30-plus nights. If he's hot early in the year and the Lakers' season falls apart by midseason, Young could command decent returns of draft picks and/or young talent in a trade.
Chris Kaman is a former all-star center who plays with his back to the basket, rebounds and passes well and can hit 8-12 foot jumpers all night long. So why would the Lakers look to unload the veteran 7-footer after just signing him this summer to a one-year deal worth $3.183 million?
Because he has value and the Lakers need to get younger.
Kaman has averaged double figures for eight consecutive seasons and was an all-star on the Clippers in 2010. Although nagging injuries throughout his career have limited his playing time, Kaman still manages to hit 49 percent of his shots and grab eight rebounds.
The Lakers are very thin up front and Kaman provides some depth there. At 31, he doesn't figure in the team's long-range plans, and so they might be willing to trade him during the season, especially if the playoffs look like a mirage.
Injuries always play a huge role in an NBA season. So, if one of the contending teams loses one of its main big men, someone like Kaman becomes even more valuable.
And should the Lakers deal Chris Kaman, they will still have Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre playing behind Pau Gasol.
As much as most Lakers don't want to hear it, the team is on a path of transition this year. They'd like 2013-14 to be entertaining and make the playoffs.
But the real prize starts in late June with the draft and in July with free agency. And if this team sees an opportunity to move one of these players during the year for up-and-coming young talent or a first round draft pick, rest assured Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss will pull the trigger.