The Phoenix Suns appear to be a possible suitor for the Spaniard, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, but there’s no guarantee the free-agent-to-be will get moved in the coming weeks. The Lakers front office, however, can still set its sights on under-the-radar moves to make an impact down the road.
Aside from their 2014 first-round draft pick, the Lakers don’t have many assets to trade. They have a handful of players whose contracts are set to expire at season’s end, so they may be able to flip those pieces for different role players.
The potential blockbuster Gasol trade will continue to dominate headlines, and while the Lakers won’t be able to put together an enticing package for a big name, they can still make some changes to an admittedly lackluster roster.
Role Player Swap
Again, the Lakers don’t have anyone on the roster whom other NBA teams are clamoring over. As a result, they’ll have to aim low with potential trades.
One deal that makes sense for both sides includes the lowly Milwaukee Bucks.
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Bucks will do everything in their power to move 29-year-old guard Gary Neal.
The former San Antonio Spurs player got into a verbal altercation with teammate Larry Sanders following a 116-110 loss against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 4. According to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Neal shouted at Sanders, “I earned my money. Why don’t you try it?”
Sanders is obviously a bigger piece for the Bucks franchise at this point, so it makes sense for the Bucks to try to move Neal as a means of improving team chemistry.
The Lakers can help Milwaukee by sending Steve Blake’s $4 million expiring contract. They’d allow the Bucks to move on from a free-agent signing that has crashed and burned while also adding a viable role player under contract for the 2014-15 season.
Even if the Lakers land a marquee free-agent prize like Carmelo Anthony this summer, basketball is a team sport. Kobe Bryant can’t carry a team by himself anymore, so bringing in a role player with playoff experience like Neal—who can also spread the floor with three-point shooting—fits with the Lakers' immediate future.
The Lakers are trying to put a contender around Bryant for his twilight years, so adding a cheap role player like Neal isn’t a bad opening move.
Helping a Contender
The 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers are not a playoff team. In fact, as of Feb. 6, the Lakers are tied with the Sacramento Kings for the seventh-worst record in the entire NBA.
The Lakers won’t be competing for a title this season, but other teams will be. As a result, the Lakers should try enticing those contenders with helpful role players like Blake, Jodie Meeks or Jordan Hill. They’re three guys with expiring contracts who could help a good team immediately.
Some trades that come to mind include sending Hill back to the Houston Rockets. Houston needs frontcourt depth with the uncertainty surrounding Omer Asik, and the Lakers might be able to land a package of Donatas Motiejunas' potential (and cheap contract) plus an expiring deal via Greg Smith or Aaron Brooks.
Blake or Meeks, meanwhile, could potentially be sent to a number of teams looking for backcourt depth; the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers or Dallas Mavericks could all use a new addition.
Both Meeks and Blake are playing some of their best basketball under head coach Mike D’Antoni, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sell high with their expiring deals in an attempt to find a diamond in the rough—as the team did with Kendall Marshall.
Embrace a Legend
“I’ve been in a lot of different things with the Lakers, but it's up to them—[owner] Jim (Buss), [general manager] Mitch (Kupchak), Coach D’Antoni—to decide who they want,” Johnson said. “Once they make their decision, they say, ‘Hey, Earvin, can you put in a call to so and so?’”
At this point, what do the Lakers have to lose by bringing Johnson in as an advisor who can recruit players and provide his two cents on occasion?
This move should be a no-brainer, but Magic said on ESPN’s NBA Countdown in November 2012, “I don’t believe in Jim Buss,” per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
That could make for an awkward working relationship with the Lakers’ new owner.
But if Buss can put his ego aside and admit he needs help putting a championship contender on the court, then the Lakers should have no issue returning to prominence with Johnson added to the fold in a minor role.
The 2013-14 squad is poised to be just the fifth in franchise history to miss the playoffs since the organization moved to Los Angeles for the 1960-61 season. A lot of changes need to be made, but bringing in Magic appears to be the easiest to pull off.