Only in the NBA could an 11-win team dominate the headlines ahead of a trade deadline.
But these are the Los Angeles Lakers, 11-44 through the All-Star break. This team is not only the Lakers, but it features Kobe Bryant's retirement tour, an interesting young core and a coach in Byron Scott who may or may not stick around for next year.
Speaking of next year, these Lakers are one of the hottest commodities on the trade market right now not because of any incredible impending blockbuster deals but because even the smallest of moves could help the team inch toward freeing up room for Kevin Durant or another superstar next summer.
So while the rumblings around the franchise seem timid for the Lakers, keep in mind while perusing the following that general manager Mitch Kupchak and the front office have a step-by-step approach to the league's most notable rebuild.
Brandon Bass' Contract
The signing of Brandon Bass was one of the conflicting signals the Lakers sent to fans and the league before the season.
Bringing on Bass made sense if the Lakers thought they were going to compete for the postseason, but this year always seemed like a rebuilding one in which young guys would soak up minutes for experience. The 30-year-old Bass got in the way of Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle.
Now the Lakers anxiously await Bass' decision on his player option.
Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler broke down the situation:
League sources peg Bass the same way they do Martin. If he’d opt-in to his deal, he’d have more value and be easier to move as $3.1 million is a pretty favorable cap number next season – especially for a playoff team looking to bolster its bench with a proven veteran NBA big man. It’s the uncertainty of the option that alters the math, and like Martin there is a different set of suitors for the ending contract guy and the opt-in guy, with the teams seeking the opt-in willing to offer more value in a deal.
It sounds like the Lakers would like to move Bass, freeing up some playing time and getting a young piece in return.
To make a contender like the Boston Celtics or others bite, though, the Lakers would have to convince Bass to make a decision on his future now instead of this summer. He's not obligated to do so, though if he wants to join a contender and chase a ring, he might.
Bass is only averaging 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds this year in 19.1 minutes per game. He's better than that with an improved supporting cast and more time off the bench, which is what the Lakers have to sell would-be trade partners on if he opts into his contract.
Should Bass do so, there is bound to be some interest, though the Lakers shouldn't expect much in return.
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Based on the above notes about the rebuild and how the team views a veteran such as Bass, it only makes sense that one can expect the Lakers to hang tight to high-value younger players.
In other words, it wouldn't be wise for teams at the deadline to think Randle, Nance, D’Angelo Russell and others are obtainable in anything short of a blockbuster deal.
According to Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, young players aren't unavailable, but the price has to wow Kupchak and the front office:
Unless some significant move comes to the Lakers’ doorstep, you’d think any young piece wouldn’t be on the move come Thursday. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. shouldn’t be considered “untouchable,” but the Lakers likely won’t be breaking up their young core.
Trading any of those guys wouldn't make a ton of sense. Nance might share the same spot as Randle, but he's still 23 with plenty of upside. Randle himself has shown flashes and is averaging a double-double this year with 11.1 points and 10.0 rebounds.
It's the same story at the point. The Lakers don't have much of a reason to trade the 23-year-old Jordan Clarkson, who averages 15.4 points, when it could move the veteran Lou Williams while looking toward the future.
Russell obviously isn't going anywhere.
So unless a blockbuster comes out of nowhere and features a player close to Durant's caliber, the Lakers don't sound like a team ready to throw away what has already been a lengthy rebuilding process.
Besides, Durant might come to town this summer while the Lakers surrender nothing but a page out of the checkbook anyway.
Nick Young's Status
Nobody knows about how the Lakers act at the deadline better than veteran forward Nick Young.
Young has been a mainstay in trade rumblings for years, as his role on the team has usually remained in flux and his contract something the Lakers wouldn't mind shipping away. This year, he's not averse to making a move if it means chasing a ring.
“I would love to be on a playoff team and not just be sitting and watching,” Young said, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “I would love to be in a playoff atmosphere and be a part of it.”
In that same write-up, though, Medina explained the challenges the Lakers face in moving the USC product: "All of which complicates the Lakers’ efforts to trade Young, who has two years left on his $11 million contract. The Lakers also shopped Young last year, both during the offseason and leading into the trade deadline, without success."
Young is 30 years old. According to Spotrac, his contract features a cap hit north of $5 million in each of the next two seasons, provided he accepts a player option in 2017.
On the court, Young is yet another odd-fitting veteran on the rebuilding team. He hasn't helped his trade value by averaging a career-low 7.2 points per game alongside a career-worst 35 percent shooting from the field in just 18.8 minutes per game.
In theory, a contender would want Young because he can get hot as a scorer off the bench. But Young hasn't done that this year, and would-be trade partners only have to look at Young's steep decline over the past three seasons in Los Angeles to think it will only get worse over the next two.
So like with most veterans on the roster, the Lakers wouldn't mind moving Young. Finding a trade partner who wants to take on the challenge, though, is a different conversation.
For the Lakers, the challenge might be standing still at the deadline and staying patient.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
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