Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDecember 16, 2009
About two weeks ago, Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was exploring trades that could help reduce the team's payroll.
He wrote, "With a league high payroll of $91 million, the Lakers are looking again to shed salary off their bench, and GM Mitch Kupchak has told teams to take its pick of reserve players—except for Lamar Odom of course—to relieve the team of some salary."
Wojnarowski mentioned that a potential deal would be similar to the one that the Lakers made last season, when they moved Vladimir Radmanovic for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown.
At the time of the trade, Radmanovic had two more full seasons on his current deal, while Morrison only had one and Brown had an expiring contract.
While there were rumblings at the time that the Lakers were afraid that Radmanovic's lack of playing time would snowball and become a distraction, there's no doubt that the deal was a business decision.
Even though Morrison was making more money than Radmanovic, the fact that Morrison's deal expired a year earlier gave the Lakers hope that they could re-sign both Odom and Trevor Ariza.
The Lakers weren't able to retain Ariza, but they were able to sign Ron Artest to replace him—a deal that may not have been possible had Radmanovic still been on their books for two more seasons.
With the Lakers facing looming extensions for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, it makes complete sense that they would try to reduce the team's payroll without having to give up one of their top six players.
All that being said, who are the prime candidates for the Lakers to trade, and who might be willing to get in bed with them to make a deal happen?
If Wojnarowksi is correct in saying that Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Odom are unavailable, then that leaves seven potential trade pieces.
Even if Luke Walton weren't hurt, there would be a better chance of the Oakland Raiders winning Super Bowl XLIV than the Lakers finding a willing partner for him.
In 2007, Kupchak gave Walton a six-year, $30 million contract that expires in the summer of 2013.
So you can add Walton's name to the list of guys who won't be traded.
Of the remaining six players, Morrison, Jordan Farmar, DJ Mbenga, and Josh Powell have contracts that expire at season's end.
A fifth player, Shannon Brown, has a player option for next season that he could either exercise or he could decide to enter the free agent market.
Lakers fans and team personnel are falling more and more in love with Brown by the day. The team has even started a website to campaign for Brown's inclusion in February's Sprite Slam Dunk Contest in Dallas.
The only player I haven't mentioned, Sasha Vujacic, is probably who the Lakers and their fans would like to see moved before the end of the season.
Vujacic has one more season after this one on a three-year, $15 million extension he signed with the team back in 2008.
If we're to believe that the Lakers are trying to make the same type of deal as the one they made with Radmanovic last season, then all conversations will probably start with Vujacic since the team's four upcoming free agents don't make enough to help out dramatically, and Brown has proven to be a valuable bench player.
The problem is that with so many teams over the salary cap, the Lakers would need to find a trade partner who needs both an outside shooter and sees no problem in paying Vujacic $5.5 million next season.
That's a pretty specific criterion that gets even more complicated when you factor in that teams generally aren't lining up to help out defending champions.
No Way José!
There are 19 teams that you can already cross off the list of potential suitors for Vujacic. They are on the list because they are either conference or league rivals who are in no hurry to help the Lakers, or they are teams looking to have maximum cap space with which to sign free agents with next summer.
A 20th team, the Memphis Grizzlies, might not be willing to trade with the Lakers given the outpouring of grief they received the last time the two teams made a deal.
The 19 teams are (in alphabetical order):
That leaves nine potential trading partners for Vujacic's services. They are (in alphabetical order):
There are two teams on the list who are usually considered conference rivals but are on the list for either financial reasons (New Orleans Hornets) or because their track record indicates that they'd be dumb enough to make any trade with any team (Golden State Warriors).
While the Lakers would prefer to trade the year-and-a-half left on Vujacic's contract for an expiring contract, they might have a difficult time finding a willing trading partner given that Vujacic's value as a player is at an all-time low.
There's a much more realistic possibility that if the Lakers are intent on slashing payroll, they will have to move Vujacic for a lesser player making slightly less money on a deal that is either equal to or one year longer than that of Vujacic.
If the Lakers were willing to take on more salary this year in order to reduce next season's salary, they do have two traded player exceptions they could use to help facilitate a trade involving Vujacic—a $1.89 million exception from the Radmanovic trade as well as a $2.5 million exception from the Chris Mihm trade they made with Memphis at the deadline last season.
Per league rules, teams cannot combine traded player exceptions, but they can use one to help facilitate a deal.
The Willing Partners
Of the 10 teams that might be willing to deal with the Lakers, there are but only a few scenarios that make sense for both parties.
One scenario involves the Washington Wizards and their disgruntled point guard, Mike James.
The Lakers could combine Vujacic and the exception from the Radmanovic trade in a deal for James expiring contract.
Since James makes about $1.5 million more than Vujacic, the move would cost the Lakers $3 million more for this season when you factor in the luxury tax, but would save them close to $11 million that they would have had to pay for Vujacic next season with the luxury tax.
The Wizards would be saving about $3 million for this season when you factor in the difference between the two salaries as well as the luxury tax.
The Wizards, currently 7-15, have eight potential players entering the free agent market next summer—James, Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Brendan Haywood, Fabricio Oberto, Javaris Crittenton, Earl Boykins, and Dominic McGuire.
This deal would only make sense for the Wizards if they felt that Vujacic could really help them this year and next. They are currently the 10th worst three-point shooting team in the NBA
With $53 million committed to just seven players for next season, the Wizards could see Vujacic as a short-term alternative to re-signing their own free agent guards—most of whom will likely want deals longer than one year.
The Wizards also wouldn't be gun-shy about making a deal with the Lakers when you consider that the last time the two teams made a trade, the Wizards walked away with Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown and LaRon Profit.
The Bobcats don't really seem to know what they're doing. One day they sign, extend, or trade for a player, and then the next thing you know they are either trading or trying to trade the same player (see Radmanovic, Emeka Okafor, Shannon Brown, Raja Bell, DeSagana Diop, Nazr Mohammed).
While the Lakers would have no interest in Mohammed, they would definitely be willing to move Vujacic for the expiring contracts of Acie Law and Flip Murray.
The problem with Law and Murray is that both were recent acquisitions, so neither is eligible to be traded yet. Murray can be traded on or after Christmas Day and Law can't be traded until Jan. 16.
The Bobcats are currently the seventh worst three-point shooting team, so they might have a use for Vujacic if they had no intention of bringing back either Murray or Law.
Murray could provide scoring off the bench for the Lakers, but Law would likely be waived.
There's really only one potential trade scenario involving Vujacic and the Pistons, and since it involves the return of Kwame Brown, we can just move on and pretend I never brought it up.
Golden State Warriors
Considering that the Warriors have so many guards on their current roster, and are one of the league's better three-point shooting teams, there really isn't a scenario involving Vujacic that would satisfy both teams.
The Warriors have two expiring contracts that would satisfy the Lakers in guards (Speedy Claxton and Raja Bell) but the Warriors would be better off letting Claxton's deal expire, and they could do much better than just Vujacic for Bell (if he's healthy).
The only deal that makes sense involving the Pacers would send Vujacic to Indiana for the expiring contracts of Earl Watson and Travis Diener.
Since the Pacers are in the league's bottom-five in attendance, they might prefer to just let Watson and Diener walk at season's end rather than take on Vujacic's salary.
That doesn't make a deal involving Indiana impossible. The Pacers are the eighth worst three-point shooting team in the league, and the expiration of Vujacic's deal would coincide with the summer of 2011—when the Pacers will only have $15.6 million committed in salaries.
The Pacers only have four guards under contract for next season—T.J. Ford, Dahntay Jones, Brandon Rush, and rookie A.J. Price. Vujacic could provide a scoring alternative to the defensive-minded Jones.
The Bucks, at 11-11, are one of the NBA's early-season surprises. There have been rumors that the team's owner, Sen. Herb Kohl, is interested in selling the team.
With Brandon Jennings, the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, and the team's highest-paid player, Michael Redd, one year away from free agency, the Bucks would be wise to not add any salary if they are indeed up for sale.
The Bucks have 10 players under contract for next season and seven of the 10 are guards.
If the team was intent on trading the expiring deals of Luke Ridnour, Hakim Warrick, Kurt Thomas, Joe Alexander, or Francisco Elson, they would likely want a forward or center in return.
New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets are another conference rival that is desperately trying to reduce payroll to get under the luxury tax.
The only deal that the Hornets would consider making with the Lakers would be the type of deal that they couldn't pass up.
Unfortunately, the Hornets want expiring contracts more than the Lakers do. So any deal involving Vujacic would have to be a deal that would cost the Lakers more money.
So while a Vujacic deal is probably out of the question, the Hornets might be willing to overpay for Morrison's expiring deal—especially if it looks as though they might miss the playoffs.
The Sixers are over the salary cap but they are under the luxury tax limit. They are one of the league's worst teams and would prefer to find someone to take Samuel Dalembert or Elton Brand off their hands rather than move one of their own expiring deals.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Sixers don't have enough in expiring deals to make a deal for Vujacic a possibility.
The Raptors don't have much to offer in expiring contracts without giving up two or three players for Vujacic.
And while that's not impossible, it's just unlikely.
There is one player on the Raptors' roster with an expiring contract who could be traded for Vujacic and also save the Lakers money, and that's L.A. native Amir Johnson.
A trade of Vujacic for Johnson would save the Lakers a little bit of money this season, but would the Raptors trade to have Vujacic on their roster for next season?
While Vujacic fits in with the Raptors' international flavor, they would be wise not to add to next season's payroll in case they lose Chris Bosh
in free agency.
The Lakers could always try to move Vujacic for Marcus Banks—who also has one more year on his contract. That would save the Lakers a little bit of money next season, but it doesn't really make all that much sense.
There's Always Morrison
The aforementioned potential trades don't represent the Lakers' only possible deals. They are just the ones the Lakers would ideally love to make.
Any time you can move a year-and-a-half of dead weight for just a few months of dead weight, you have to do it.
The Lakers also have Adam Morrison's $5.25 million expiring contract. They can always try to move Vujacic and Morrison for one big expiring contract if there was a team that really wanted Vujacic.
The Lakers don't have a first round pick in next summer's draft to offer. That pick belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the Gasol trade.
With so few teams willing to deal before the deadline, it's unlikely that they'll be able to make the type of trade that will reduce payroll and not hurt their depth or on-court performance.
After watching Shaq, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jermaine O'Neal, Zach Randolph, and Larry Hughes all get traded twice in the past couple years, the only thing that's certain is that we should never say never when it comes to trades.
Unless we're talking about Luke Walton.