Ranking LA Lakers Most Appealing Trade Chips for Potential Deal
First, let’s start off with a basic acknowledgement: The Los Angeles Lakers have one of the league’s most unappealing rosters when it comes to common-sense horse trading.
The face of the franchise, Kobe Bryant, isn’t going anywhere. He just signed a new two-year extension that will take him to retirement with the only team he’s ever played for in the NBA. Plus, he has a no-trade clause.
Pau Gasol is the team’s second-leading scorer, as well as its second-most expensive player. He does have an expiring contract, however, and remains the subject of speculation.
Nobody knows whether Steve Nash will ever play again. and after that, the Lakers' financial numbers go into a steep dive. It’s not that there aren’t Lakers who would appeal to other teams. It’s that the Lakers got them on the dirt-cheap, and as a result, it’s nearly impossible to get value back in return for them.
Nonetheless, it’s that time of year, with the trade deadline’s just about two months away. As Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times points out, a number of recently signed players on the Lakers roster just became trade eligible:
If the Lakers have any intention to make a deal before the Feb. 20 trade deadline, a number of players on the roster just became trade eligible. In most cases, free agents signed during the off-season cannot be traded until Dec. 15.
This applies to Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams, Robert Sacre and Xavier Henry.
Of course, just because they’re eligible, doesn’t make them all appealing options. Here then, is a ranking of a select group from the Purple and Gold who could conceivably be in the mix, most likely in some sort of combination.
*Basketball salaries from ShamSports
**Statistics from Basketball-Reference
6. Steve Nash
For the No. 6, and least likely, of our potential trade chips, we have a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer in Steve Nash. In his prime, the eight-time All-Star and two-time league MVP was the purest passer the NBA had ever seen. Unfortunately, at age 39, his health issues seem to have a stranglehold on him.
Nash has only played six games this season, averaging 6.7 points. There’s no doubt that he still wants back in the game, but issues with his back and nerves—stemming from last season’s broken left leg—have made his return appear increasingly doubtful.
Adding to that is the fact that his contract isn’t exactly a welcome wagon for those who might ponder taking the leap. Nash’s contract pays $9,300,500 this season and $9,701,000 next.
Why is he on this list at all then? Nash has been working out in Vancouver with his personal trainer while getting ready to come back and give it another try. If he can regain his health, then he's still a legitimate point guard in the league and one of the smartest floor generals to ever run the floor. He's not the most obvious trade chip, but you can't disregard him—at least not quite yet.
Then again, hanging out in Vancouver while you’re earning all those millions from the Lakers isn’t bad work if you can get it.
5. Jodie Meeks
With a $1,550,000 expiring contract, Jodie Meeks could be an enticing part of the puzzle for a lot of teams. He’s definitely earning his modest paycheck this season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Meeks has started 17 out of 24 games this season, putting up a career-high average of 12.3 points per game. It’s a major step up from last season with the Lakers, and that is exactly why they signed him.
Always known as an outside shooter, Meeks worked hard over the summer on his ball-handling and dribble-drive skills. In addition to his increased scoring, Meeks is also shooting a blistering .430 from beyond the arc.
There was an expectation that Meeks would return to the bench when Kobe Bryant returned to the lineup, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
I figured it was coming, Meeks said. But for me personally, my role doesn’t change. I come in and be solid on defense and knock down shots.
As it turned out, injuries to Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar, have required Bryant to run the point. For now, Meeks continues to start at the 2-guard position.
The Lakers would undoubtedly prefer to keep Meeks, but he could realistically balance out both the needs and numbers for a team looking to amortize a more expensive deal involving a player such as Pau Gasol.
4. Chris Kaman
Journeyman big man Chris Kaman sat out several games recently with back pain, but that’s no longer the case. It now seems as if he’s simply fallen out of favor with head coach Mike D’Antoni.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Kaman had this to say on Monday:
It's absolutely not what I was looking for. It’s not really in my control. I just try to keep working hard and be ready if the time comes. And if it doesn't, then it just wasn't meant to be.
The former All-Star had arrived as a free agent over the summer, assuming he’d have a larger role in D’Antoni’s system. His expiring contract of $3,183,000 could easily plug into a number of scenarios.
Kaman’s has averaged 8.3 points in an economical 16.8 minutes this season—when he actually plays, that is. Earlier in the season, he started alongside Pau Gasol and was fairly effective, stepping out to hit mid-range jumpers while shooting a very solid 50 percent from the floor.
There’s always a need for big men in the league. Kaman’s got size at 7’0” and 268 pounds, and still has pretty good mobility. He’s not a defensive stopper, but he’s got a lot of league experience. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see him involved in a Lakers' trade package.
3. Jordan Hill
If you’re looking for a frontcourt player who knows just one speed—flat-out gonzo—Jordan Hill’s your guy.
His athleticism and raw energy does come with a down side, however. Hill has missed a lot of time due to injuries, playing just 29 games last season and 39 the season before.
The 6’10” combo center/power forward was the eighth overall draft pick for the New York Knicks in 2009, but was traded to the Houston Rockets during his rookie year. Now in his fifth year in the league, Hill is having something of a breakout season, averaging 9.8 points and 8.3 boards in just under 22 minutes per game.
Jordan Hill had a huge game, working the pick-and-roll, hitting short-range jumpers, protecting the rim and pulling down rebounds. He finished with new career-highs in scoring (24 points) and rebounding (17 rebounds). Don't mind me, I'm just nodding along as Jordan Hill continues to prove he deserves all of the minutes.
At $3.5 million, Hill’s expiring contract can plug into a lot of scenarios. In all honesty, the Lakers would probably be making a mistake to let him go. They do have to field a roster next season, after all, and Kobe Bryant’s new extension reinforces the need for inexpensive players who can fill in around him. One of the challenges, however, lies in Mike D’Antoni’s system—he prefers stretch fours and Hill doesn’t have much of a shooting range.
Still, it’s been hard to argue with Hill’s intensity and work ethic this season. He’s been one of the Lakers’ true bright spots.
2. Nick Young
At $1,106,942 and a player option for $1,227,985 for next season, Nick Young is a bargain. The Lakers weren’t taking much of a gamble when they signed him this past summer. They knew what everyone else in the league knows—that 'Swaggy P' will score.
That’s not to say that Young isn’t a wild card. He’s been giving coaches fits for years. He’ll shoot you both in and out of games, his defense can be spotty and he’s got notoriously sticky fingers with the ball.
Still, when he’s on, he will absolutely light it up, and this season, Young has been very much on.
Normally a shooting guard, Young has mostly operated out of the small forward position this season, usually off the bench. He’s averaging just shy of 15 points in about 26 minutes per game. In fact, through 24 games, he has been the Lakers' leading scorer.
Make no mistake, signing Young has paid off. The Lakers most certainly do not want to give this guy away, not for the minimum-salary price tag that they have invested. Potential trade partners will be asking about him, however.
1. Pau Gasol
Finally we come to the Lakers’ No. 1 trade chip—Pau Gasol. His name comes up each and every season, but there’s also good reason for the Lakers to hang on to him.
Gasol’s large expiring contract is management’s only real viable chance to be a player in next season’s free-agent market.
Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding explained further:
For all the Pau Gasol rumors, the Lakers are perfectly fine keeping him the rest of the season, which would allow Bryant to believe he still has a fighting title chance here and now. The Lakers hope the Kobe-Pau magic re-emerges, but they’ve long ago embraced the financial benefit of just letting Gasol’s $19.3 million salary slide off the books.
Not only is it difficult to find a landing spot for a salary that big, even if it is expiring, but the Lakers are limited in the kind of players they would want back. They are determined not to have salary beyond 2016, hopefully not beyond 2015 and preferably not even beyond 2014.
The other side of the coin is the recent volatility between Gasol and his head coach. Bill Plaschke, of the Los Angeles Times, detailed Gasol's opinion that his effectiveness is being compromised:
He said he believes his poor play is a result of his poor usage in D'Antoni's system. He said he has come to the conclusion that he just doesn't fit. "This year hasn't been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that's not going to change any time soon," he said.
Friction and free-agency plans aside, the Lakers front office does field the calls and Gasol is their biggest available trade chip.
Dan Favale of B/R wrote about potential trade packages and landing spots for Gasol, which may have many teams in the mix for his services.
Could Gasol's time in Los Angeles finally be winding down? It's anybody's guess, but if the Lakers do pull the trigger on a deal, Pau will probably be the centerpiece.