LA Lakers Waste Golden Opportunity Not Trading Jordan Hill

David MurphyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, right, tries to put up a shot as Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins blocks it during the first half of an NBA basketball, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Jordan Hill is having a career season, but the Los Angeles Lakers have a strange way of showing it.

Not only has the hard-playing big man received inconsistent minutes, but management failed to move him before the trade deadline.

The 6’10” free agent will stay in L.A. for now, as will Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, who also have expiring contracts. All three centers will likely move once the season ends with the Lakers receiving nothing in return save for a season riddled with losses and questions.

When Thursday’s deadline approached, Hill was seemingly in high demand. There were active discussions with the Brooklyn Nets as well as other teams regarding the high-energy player.

As the deadline inched closer, more NBA teams joined in the hunt.

And just as suddenly, it was all over. The deadline had passed, and the only Lakers trade was the transfer of Steve Blake and his expiring $4 million contract for underused free agents MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore of the Golden State Warriors.

And what about Hill? In a competitive marketplace, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak wasn’t able to swing a deal that would have provided financial relief and brought back actual basketball assets.

After it was all over on Thursday, Kupchak met with the media at the team’s practice facility and elaborated on the evolution of trading in the modern NBA. Whereas GMs once spoke one-on-one, it has now become decision-making by committee. Per the Lakers’ website:

Now everything is (on) speaker phone, there are probably 8-10 people in an office listening, running numbers, giving opinion. It’s a big business. Everybody’s looking out for their own self-interests and everybody has an opinion, so consequently, it’s tough to make a deal – any kind of a deal.

Kupchak added that the organization’s motivation was not one of saving money through the luxury tax but, instead, improving the team:

Quite frankly, we did have an opportunity to go below the tax threshold, but there were no basketball components, and that’s unacceptable with this organization. If we could’ve gotten picks or players that we felt good about going forward, then we would have done that. But we did have opportunities to go below the threshold, but we didn’t.

A raw but explosive power forward out of the University of Arizona, Hill was the eighth overall draft pick by the New York Knicks in 2009. His coach that season was none other than Mike D’Antoni, who played the young prospect sparingly over a span of 28 games. Shortly before the February deadline in 2010, Hill was part of a three-team trade, winding up with the Houston Rockets.

According the Marc Berman of The New York Post, D’Antoni got his hackles up when Hill alleged that he couldn’t strut his stuff in New York because his coach didn’t like to play rookies. 

“Where does that come from? Seriously. It’s something that cracks me up. I don’t play rookies? I don’t like to play bad rookies.”

Hill was traded to the Lakers in March, 2012, but appeared in only 29 games the following season due to a hip injury that required surgery.  

The current season has been an unmitigated train wreck for the Lakers—injuries and losses co-mingling freely, and a roster so laced with free agents and temporary minimum-salary deals that it’s hard to form a clear picture of the team going forward.

Hill has presented one of the few real positives, playing every game save one (the lone exception due to a neck sprain), and averaging the best stats of his career at 8.6 points and 7.1 boards, in just under 20 minutes per game. He’s one of the team’s few defensive presences, offering sheer hustle, heart and athleticism for $3.5 million per year.

Plus, he's an effective scorer at close range, whether it's putbacks, right-hand hooks or an up-and-under move. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19: Jordan Hill #27 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots during a game against the Houston Rockets at STAPLES Center on February 19, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

And yet, his efforts have often been wasted. Since the beginning of January, Ryan Kelly, the Lakers' 48th pick in last year's draft, has played more minutes than Hill. Why? Because Kelly fits the D’Antoni preferred profile for a big man—an outside shooter who won’t get you much in the way of rebounds, but he will stretch the floor and let it fly at will.

D’Antoni’s system is about spacing, ball movement and putting up more points than the other side. Hill’s game is about preventing the other side from getting more points. You’d think there could be room for both philosophies, given that the game is played at both ends of the floor.

Perhaps it’s simply up to Hill to create his own destiny. In the two games since the trade deadline, he’s averaged 10.5 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 28.5 minutes per game.

Sometimes, it’s good to be a free agent.

There was plenty of outside interest in Hill leading up to the trade deadline, but those teams were content to wait. They know he’ll be available and unencumbered in just a few short months, and they won’t have to give the Lakers a thing.

What a waste of an opportunity.

The Lakers could have cultivated a dedicated player who’s willing to leave it all on the floor. Or they could have turned his expiring contract into something. Instead, they march ahead through the worst season in a generation, while Hill looks toward a better and brighter future—elsewhere.