It is no secret the Los Angeles Lakers have been in rebuilding mode for years now, and their annual losses have consistently increased during the process. In theory, the trade deadline could offer an opportunity to get the team moving again in the right direction.
But the very nature of L.A.’s reconstruction process makes improvement, right here and now, a Catch-22 situation. The best part of the roster skews heavily toward young players whose worth far exceeds their rookie contracts.
There’s not much point in exchanging exciting next-generation Lakers like Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle for established veterans more than halfway through a historically bad season, when there’s little left for the team to do but try and hang onto their top-three-protected draft pick in June.
There are, of course, some expendable Lakers and/or expiring contracts that could be put to better use. But these are not players who are particularly high on other teams' wish lists.
In recent weeks, we have covered players who may be on the block, speculative deals and issues the team faces. Now it’s time to cap it all off with realistic strategies the team must employ, if in fact, there are any actual triggers to pull.
Adding up the Assets
In order to execute a trade, L.A. has to have something to offer. As mentioned above, the youth brigade is likely off limits, and that should also include promising prospects like Larry Nance Jr., Anthony Brown and Tarik Black.
With the retiring Kobe Bryant clearly off the table, what’s left? Not all that much, really.
As Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders recently wrote: “The Lakers are said to be open to trading guard Nick Young and center Roy Hibbert, but neither seems overly attractive on the trade front, especially if the Lakers have to take on salary that runs into the 2016 salary cap year.”
Currently bogged down in the worst season of his career, the thoroughly earthbound Hibbert’s appeal lies chiefly in his $15.5 million expiring contract. Young still has the ability to light up the scoreboard, but he’s signed through 2018 at an average of $5.5 million.
Muggsy Bogues wins jump ball and has more hops than Roy Hibbert.— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) February 13, 2016
Lou Williams is L.A.’s most tradable asset by far—the reigning Sixth Man of the Year is a dependable scorer with a manageable contract. As Kyler points out, veteran forward Brandon Bass could also be a cost-effective role player for a contending team.
There’s also backup center Robert Sacre and stretch 4 Ryan Kelly, but they’re marginal NBA players and don’t really represent anything other than filler in a deal.
The Lakers have a litany of needs, including perimeter defenders and versatile bigs. But as mentioned above, L.A doesn’t have a lot to offer in return. As the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
With Marc Gasol out indefinitely due to a broken foot, the Memphis Grizzlies are in dire need of frontcourt help. This is one of the few situations in which Hibbert with his traditional half-court style could actually make some sense as a short-term replacement player.
Jeff Green has an expiring contract and an uncertain future in Memphis. Could the intermittently effective small forward be worth a test drive in L.A., perhaps combined with journeyman Brandan Wright, an athletic and rangy 4/5 who’s close to coming back from having his right knee scoped?
The ESPN trade machine would sign off on the deal. Whether Memphis would entertain such a swap is a bit more iffy.
Trade rumors, as The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski noted, have been swirling around the slumping Houston Rockets and their franchise center Dwight Howard as of late. But what about reshuffling the deck with lesser deals?
L.A. was interested in Corey Brewer last summer, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, but Houston re-signed the veteran small forward to a three-year $23.4 million deal. Brewer’s production has since slumped, but he’s still a solid perimeter defender.
According to ESPN's trade machine, Williams and Bass would make the financials work, with seven additional losses for each team. Here comes the lottery!
Staying the Course
The reality is, there has been a noticeable lack of substantive Lakers trade rumors of late. About the only news has been general manager Mitch Kupchak admitting to Chris McGee on TWC SportsNet that most teams only “have interest in our young players, and we covet our young players pretty highly right now.”
L.A. will head into the offseason with a potential top-three draft pick and plenty of money to spend. There is also the uncertainty of the coaching situation, given Byron Scott’s steadily decreasing returns.
It would be nice to get an early jump on the summer, but it’s certainly not an imperative. The Lakers should come back from the All-Star break with a clear agenda—to instill as much confidence and experience as possible in their youngsters. Stats, courtesy of the team, illustrate why Clarkson and Russell are "rising stars":
This is a team headed for a major sea change. There’s 27 games left before Bryant rides off into the sunset and before L.A. misses the playoffs for an unprecedented third season in a row.
The overall blueprint is about more than a midseason trade strategy. It’s about building on the youth movement with a massive war chest and hiring a coach who isn’t buried in the past.
All that said, the February 18 deadline is just days away, and there always seems to be a league-wide flurry of last-minute surprises.