The trade buzz surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers has been unusually quiet leading up to the February 18 midseason deadline.
Some of this is likely due to a certain state of limbo the team finds itself in—paying homage to Kobe Bryant and his farewell tour during a lottery-bound season, while also developing neophytes for the future.
That said, the front office isn’t completely on vacation until the summer. Appearing on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet with Chris McGee, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak acknowledged making potential trade phone calls, but cautioned that the team’s most appealing trade chips are younger prospects who aren’t apt to be moved.
“I suspect there that there will be more activity moving forward,” Kupchak said. “But I wouldn’t suspect a blockbuster deal.”
One name should certainly be crossed off any star-crossed dream scenario: Sacramento Kings’ mercurial center DeMarcus Cousins. As Mark Stein of ESPN noted in December, Kings general manager Vlade Divac has been adamant that Boogie is “off the table.”
And so, we turn to the land of actual plausibility, looking at trade targets who might be available in return for limited assets, while also not necessarily chewing into future cap space.
What a tightrope walk!
Joakim Noah has been synonymous with the Chicago Bulls since being selected as their 9th overall pick in 2007. It’s hard to imagine this 6’11” bundle of kinetic energy ever playing for another organization. But that possibility seems to be gaining traction, despite the team’s second-place standing in the East.
Noah started all 67 of his games in 2014-15, but his production was also hampered with residual soreness from offseason knee surgery, as well as a midseason ankle sprain. The situation has further eroded since then, with just one start for the two-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year. Noah has also missed his last nine games with a sprained shoulder.
Meanwhile, Bobby Portis—a high-motor rookie—has been rapidly picking up frontcourt minutes.
Apart from injuries, there is an obvious level of uncertainty as new coach Fred Hoiberg continues shuffling his big man rotation. And, according to Joe Crowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bulls management is taking calls regarding Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson as the deadline approaches.
At 30, Noah still has a lot of game left. While his scoring has fallen way off this season, he’s still rebounding strongly—averaging 8.8 boards in just 22.3 minutes per game. He’s also still protecting the rim aggressively, and has always been one of the better post playmakers in the league. The longtime Bulls center is in the last year of his contract, earning $13.4 million salary for the season.
Noah would be a huge upgrade over Roy Hibbert. And, acquiring him midseason would allow a test drive before free agency arrives.
Meanwhile, Chicago has won seven of its last nine games as Noah watches in street clothes. Gasol and Gibson, each under contract through next season, may have earned a modicum of security on a playoff-bound team.
David Lee, PF, Boston Celtics
David Lee was a long-tenured starter with the Golden State Warriors until their championship year, when he lost his job to Draymond Green. Part of the reason had to do with hamstring issues, but Lee’s lack of an outside shooting game, as well as limited defensive quickness, also played a role.
The two-time All-Star was traded to the Boston Celtics during the offseason but hasn’t found a starting job there, either. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Despite any shortcomings, Lee has always been a talented short-to-midrange scorer, as well as a solid passer and high-energy rebounder. In a sense, the 6’9” lefty has certain skills in common with 21-year-old Julius Randle, although Lee’s jumper is much more polished. He can also play the center position (if defense is assisted from elsewhere).
According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers were interested in trading for Lee last summer before the Celtics landed him. That interest might even be stronger now, given Lee’s upcoming free agent status.
Lee’s expiring contract of $15,493,680 could be easily swapped out for Hibbert’s $15,514,031. Or, L.A. could combine lesser assets in a package. Similar to the Noah scenario, the second half of the season could be a useful trial run to see if Lee fits with future plans.
Ryan Anderson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Ryan Anderson is the second-leading scorer for the New Orleans Pelicans, a struggling franchise that is currently ahead of only one team in the West—the Lakers.
Anderson’s the classic specialty player, a flame-throwing sharpshooter who spreads the floor while coming off the bench. On the other hand, the 6’10” forward is a liability on the defensive end, one of the reasons his name so often surfaces in trade rumors.
But new head coach Alvin Gentry recently downplayed any scuttlebutt, per John Reid of The Times-Picayune.
“Everyone knows that Ryan's name is going to be out there,” Gentry said. “We have made not one call about trading Ryan, nor will we. So those are the kind of things that's going to happen that people are going to inquire about.”
But that doesn’t mean general manager Del Demps doesn’t pick up the call when other league execs phone in. And while Anderson would do nothing at all to aid the Lakers’ woeful defense, he would bring welcome frontcourt firepower.
Of course, making a deal would be a challenge. Anderson’s a value player with an $8.5 million expiring contract, and the Pelicans won’t be tempted by offers that don’t improve their roster.
Los Angeles-born Brandon Jennings was having an incendiary season for the Detroit Pistons before blowing out his left Achilles tendon a year ago. Prior to the injury, the point guard had been averaging 15.4 points, 6.6 assists and 1.1 steals in 28.6 minutes per game.
Coming back from one of sport’s toughest mishaps, Jennings had been eased back into the rotation over the Pistons’ last six games with an average of 6.8 points in 17.8 minutes. Meanwhile, the success of current starter Reggie Jackson, along with Jennings’ $8,344,497 expiring contract, has led to plenty of trade chatter.
But Pistons’ head coach Stan Van Gundy continues preaching the positives, according to Pistons.com's Keith Langlois.
“Our plan right now is that Brandon can help us make a playoff push,” Van Gundy said. “That’s our plan right now. If something changes in the next five weeks” – a reference to the February trade deadline – “then we’ll look at it. But right how he’s a very good player who can help us.”
The flashy left-handeder has long been on the Lakers’ radar. ESPN’s Shelburne reported on the team’s interest a year ago, while Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding also mentioned Jennings as a potential target just last June.
The real question is how a shot-happy veteran would fit into a guard rotation that already includes No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell, sophomore combos guard Jordan Clarkson, and veterans Lou Williams and Marcelo Huertas.
The most apt comparison is Jennings and Williams, each 6’1”, with major past injuries and a habit of jacking the ball up at will. But while Sweet Lou would rather drive through traffic than share the rock, Jennings is a true point guard who willingly deals dimes in addition to scoring.
On the other hand, Jennings has historically functioned as a starter, and it’s not a stretch to wonder if this could cause any conflict with Russell—the 19-year-old who is so eager to win his wings.
Thus, Jennings—like Noah, Lee and Anderson—is a player who could bring interesting qualities to the Lakers, but who won’t solve the team’s larger issues.
Los Angeles must continue developing the youth brigade while keeping its financial powder dry for free agency plans. But it is also worth remembering that these four horsemen come without contracts beyond this season. And that adds a whole other level of intrigue—there’s no guarantee that they’d stay, but there’s also no penalty if they don’t work out.