When you’re as awful as the Los Angeles Lakers, blindly stomping through transitory desolation, great expectations do not likely exist at the NBA trade deadline. The team is not acquiring a star and doesn’t have one to foolishly surrender. There's no reason for fans to white-knuckle through Thursday afternoon. Back to waiting out the season, everyone.
Wait. Hold that thought.
Even though their embarrassing campaign will be over in a few short months—when the Lakers enter the summer armed with more cap space than anybody else, a possible top-three draft pick and fresh optimism ushered in by Kobe Bryant’s departure—that doesn’t mean L.A.’s front office should sit on its hands at the trade deadline.
Even if nothing seismic occurs, the deadline is a fantastic opportunity for all teams to shape their future by collecting assets to better themselves in the short and/or long term. The Lakers are no exception and should aggressively look to move their long-miscast elder statesmen.
Wrong Place, Wrong Team
Lou Williams, Nick Young, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert should all be shopped. Their average age is 29.5, far from ideal for a rebuild. Each is dispensable, and moving them for younger players (on equally short, exceedingly cheap contracts) or a draft pick would effectively kill two birds with one stone.
The Lakers need to be as terrible as possible. By shedding their starting shooting guard, starting center, backup center and backup small forward, they can get even worse than they already are.
Losing more games than the Philadelphia 76ers is good news for L.A.’s lottery odds, but even winning is acceptable so long as guys like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Jordan Clarkson and Anthony Brown can build their confidence doing it.
By the way: Since Jan. 1, lineups featuring Clarkson, Russell and Randle have outscored opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions in 143 minutes of action, per NBA.com. It only makes sense for L.A.'s front office to weaken head coach Byron Scott’s iron fist by forcing him to play young guys more than he has.
But finding an eager trade partner for any one of these four vets—let alone a combination—is much easier said than done. Let's run down the list.
The rapidly declining Hibbert is making $15.6 million on an expiring contract, per Basketball Insiders, so the one or two teams that might have interest can just wait out the year and sign him to a new deal this summer instead of forfeiting a useful asset.
This was supposed to be a redemptive year for the two-time All-Star, but instead he’s struggled on both ends of the floor. Hibbert is too slow to defend pick-and-rolls in space, which is problematic considering how critical lateral mobility is for bigs right now. Rim protection is still cool, but offenses are equally willing to attack from the perimeter, and centers who aren’t quick enough to get there and back are useless.
His offensive contribution is limited to open mid-range jump shots that are happily granted by L.A.'s opponent. There’s no post game, no dominance on the glass and no threat as a diving roll man. In other words, Hibbert is a dinosaur and isn’t productive enough to make a good team better than it already is.
Per NBA.com, opponents are shooting 56.1 percent at the rim against L.A. this season, which is a league high. Two slots below the Lakers sit the Boston Celtics, one of the best defensive squads in the league. But the Celtics still lack any intimidation factor inside. To save about $100,000, the Lakers could flip Hibbert to Boston for David Lee and a second-round pick.
The Portland Trail Blazers showed interest in Hibbert a couple of years ago, so maybe they’d be willing to absorb his contract for a future second-round pick and Chris Kaman's expiring contract? Do the Grizzlies have any interest in a stopgap replacement for an injured Marc Gasol?
Williams might be L.A.'s best offensive player, and he's due only $14.3 million over the next two seasons. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year can get buckets at will and has spent this season showcasing his unreal ability to sucker defenders into fouling him 23 feet from the rim.
Williams is happy with the Lakers and isn't looking to move. But "several teams" that showed interest over the summer (and couldn't afford him) might circle back and look to acquire the 29-year-old scorer before Thursday's deadline, according to a league source.
Which teams might want him? The Miami Heat could use more scoring off the bench, but Williams' contract and defensive shortcomings are two reasons why Pat Riley may pass (cap space is paramount to Miami's rebuild). Still, he's an efficient scorer who can fit in just about any system, and the East is filled with teams looking to guarantee themselves a playoff spot. Williams can help.
Nick Young and Brandon Bass
Young, on the other hand, cannot. The 30-year-old has spent this season in and out of Scott's rotation, and the length of his contract makes him radioactive. Earlier this week, Young expressed his desire to play for a better team to the L.A. Daily News' Mark Medina, but with over $11 million left on his deal over the next two seasons, the chances of his finding a new home are slim-to-none:
“I’ll be lying if I said I’m not hearing anything,” Young said. “I don’t know if anything’s going to happen. But I’m being prepared and hoping for the best.”
Young stressed he’s “not hoping for anything,” whether it involves the Lakers retaining him or trading him. But his eyes perked up at the possibility of a postseason-bound team adding secondary scoring to fuel a deep run.
“I would love to be on a playoff team and not just be sitting and watching,” Young said. “I would love to be in a playoff atmosphere and be a part of it.”
The last option is Bass, who chugs along on a cheap contract with a player option this summer. He is one of the league's most under-appreciated role players. He's 30, but still athletic enough to protect the rim and stay mobile on the perimeter.
His mid-range jumper is money when uncontested, and he plays hard on every possession. Just about every team in the league would improve by placing him on its bench, but it's unclear what he'd fetch as a two- or three-month rental.
It wouldn't hurt to sniff around for a second-round pick or two, though. Bass provides stable energy, which is an underrated commodity.
The Bottom Line
The Lakers will stink for the rest of this season no matter what happens on Thursday. Whether their roster continues on as an odd pile of veterans who presumably wish they were chipping in on a winning cause, or the keys get handed to an inexperienced group, the short-term bottom line won't change.
But even a minor trade today can lead to a brighter future tomorrow. It's all marginal, but expect fireworks in the summertime.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted
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