Just hours before the injury-ravaged Los Angeles Lakers tipped off against the Houston Rockets the day before the trade deadline, it seemed they would have nine active players instead of the eight they've gone with lately. Then Steve Blake was dealt to the Golden State Warriors, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, and the Lakers' luxury-tax tango had begun.
No draft picks for Lakers in Blake deal. Just seldom-used GS guards Kent Bazemore + MarShon Brooks. Lakers save $4 million in salary + taxes— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) February 20, 2014
Other NBA teams are seeking a useful big man, but Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill may not fit that description. Jettisoning unwanted players is no simple task, and the last-place Lakers have found many of their potential trade partners walking sideways as the deadline draws near.
As reported by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal on Feb. 18, the Cleveland Cavaliers may be done pursuing Kaman: "The Cavs previously discussed acquiring Chris Kaman from the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources said, but those talks have stalled."
Kaman got demolished by Dwight Howard and Houston in the Feb. 19 loss as Dwight dominated the Lakers for 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. ESPN announcer and former head coach Jeff Van Gundy denounced Kaman's lackluster effort in the early going as Howard bullied him around the paint.
Van Gundy, "Chris Kaman, is he PLAYING tonight??"— David Murphy (@davem234) February 20, 2014
Kaman earned an All-Star nod as a member of the L.A. Clippers in 2010, but that season also saw him play a career-high 34.3 minutes per game on his way to averaging 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds. This year, Kaman has seen a career-low 18.7 minutes per game through 30 contests despite a rotation laid bare by injuries, including to starter Pau Gasol.
The journalistic guru of the trade deadline, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, also threw some cold water on a Jordan Hill trade with an early-morning tweet on deadline day.
New Orleans is backing away on its interest of a Jordan Hill deal with the Lakers, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 20, 2014
Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported that multiple teams have interest in Hill—including the New Orleans Pelicans, Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns—but the Brooklyn Nets remain favorites to land the backup big:
Brooklyn has a disabled player exception available following the season-ending foot injury suffered by center Brook Lopez. That would allow the Nets to absorb Hill’s salary without sending back salary to the Lakers. Following the deal that sent Steve Blake to the Warriors on Wednesday night, that would push the Lakers down close to the tax threshold, saving about $11 million.
The Nets disabled-player exception both creates the ability to take on Hill's salary and the opportunity to bring in a bona fide backup who can play at the 4 or the 5. Hill offers a more physical skill set than Andray Blatche, and he's averaging career-highs in shooting percentage (54.4), points (8.5) and rebounds (7.0) per game this season.
However, the Lakers' goal of landing draft picks and shedding salary may be too ambitious, according to Deveney:
As they have shopped Hill, though, a source said the Lakers have also been asking for a first-round draft pick in addition to salary relief. That complicates a potential deal to Brooklyn, which does not have a pick available to trade. If the Lakers can’t get a first-rounder elsewhere, the source said, Hill should wind up with the Nets.
Short of trading Pau Gasol and his $19.3-million salary this season, dealing Kaman and Hill would be the only way for the Lakers to clear their tax bill and avoid the harsh repeater clause in the luxury tax.
On the heels of the Blake deal, shipping out Hill would create a huge savings by itself. That savings means the Lakers will be extremely motivated to get Hill out of town, and a deal involving him may be a matter of when rather than if.
If/when Lakers dump Jordan Hill, they'll be only $2M over luxury tax. Blake and Hill moves alone would shave tax bill from $11.9M to $3M.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) February 20, 2014
Unfortunately, there are human consequences to the deadline which go far beyond the permutations of ESPN's trade machine, but the NBA is a business first and foremost.
As Blake told Bresnahan shortly after his trade was confirmed, he was uncertain about how to feel: "Real mixed emotions. The hardest thing really is my family. Now I'm going to have to spend four months probably away from them."
It's a pity, but at least Blake is now just up the coast playing in the Bay Area and not in Brooklyn or Charlotte.
For Hill and Kaman, more transactions are still possible if they stay on as Lakers past the deadline, but the team remains resolute about shedding payroll and increasing maneuverability to surround Kobe Bryant with a solid supporting cast as he finishes his career.