Los Angeles Lakers Rumors: 10 Midseason Moves They Can Make To Cement Top Seed
What a difference a week in the NBA can make. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers, currently riding a four game winning streak after limping miserably through a disastrous period in late December and early January in which they were embarrassed by Milwaukee, Miami, San Antonio and Memphis.
With Andrew Bynum seemingly on the mend and looking more ferocious by the game, the team seems back on track. But this is the NBA and things change quickly. Witness one Matt Barnes, who injured his knee Friday against the Hornets, is having surgery today and is out for a couple of months.
So, despite the fact that L.A. has won six of its last seven games, including a 109-87 thrashing Sunday of the red hot, high-scoring New York Knicks, there are still a lot of people who feel the team needs another piece or two in order to secure the No. 1 seed in the West.
Here, then, are 10 ideal moves the Lakers may wish to make in order to ensure the top seed for the playoffs. Remember, though, that some of the best moves are the ones you don’t make.
Trevor Ariza Never Should Have Left L.A.: Time for His Return
Bring back Trevor Ariza.
There were so many reasons to not let Trevor Ariza depart after the 2009 season. And there are just as many reasons for bringing him back. Have you noticed how sluggish and slow and old the Lakers sometimes appear? The 25-year old Ariza was the young energy L.A. needed during the 2008-09 season when the Lakers went to the Finals and defeated the Orlando Magic in 5 games to win their 15th NBA title.
The 6’8”, 230 pound sleight-of-hand Ariza brought athleticism and enthusiasm to every one of the 24.4 minutes per game he averaged for the Lakers, scoring nine points, hitting on 47 percent of his shots and averaging almost two steals. His postseason play assured him of a hefty raise and a new contract—although most of us didn’t see it coming from the Houston Rockets. We have his agent to thank for that.
Ron Artest replaced Ariza last year and, though he went through a transition period of trying to understand the triangle offense, basically cemented his Lakers legacy by hitting that key three pointer late in Game 7 against the Celtics to give L.A. its 16th and perhaps most fulfilling championship.
This year, Artest seems to have taken a couple of steps backward—he’s been a non factor on offense most of the season, averaging a career-low 7.7 ppg as his minutes decreased to 27.
And with Matt Barnes sidelined for at least two months with a knee injury and Artest having to log more minutes, the addition of Ariza (now languishing with the Hornets) to the Lakers roster would add speed, aggressiveness and those all important hustle points the team sorely lacks at times.
Chauncey Billups Is the Prototypical Big Guard that Jackson Prefers
Chauncey Billups is a proven winner.
The Denver point guard, a.k.a. “Mr. Big Shot,” has been a major thorn in the side of the Lakers for years.
The 6'3", 200 pound Billups has given L.A. fits since his former employer, the Detroit Pistons, won the 2004 championship over Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and he was its MVP. Now in his 13th season, Billups continues to play at a high level and would be an ideal addition at the point for the team.
He’s averaged between 15 and 19 points per game every season for the last eight years. Billups is not a tremendous sharpshooter—he hits on 41 percent of his shots from the floor. But what he does bring is a confident swagger, the ability to hit big shots and an uncanny ability to penetrate the paint.
As Denver looks to a future without Carmelo Anthony, it appears likely they will move Billups as well in favor of a younger roster. The Colorado native would only add to L.A.'s star power and offer the team another guard who isn't afraid to attack the rim.
Andre Iguodala: A Consistent Scorer and Defensive Specialist
L.A. would have to give up a lot to secure the talents of the 6’6” 207 pound sixth year guard from the University of Arizona who was drafted ninth overall in 2004. But, if the opportunity arises, a deal like this would surprise the league and further cement the Lakers as the team to beat in the Finals.
Andre Iguodola has been consistently impressive since joining the 76ers following his sophomore year of college. He’s durable, having started all 82 games in each of the past three seasons and all but six of a possible 492 games for his career.
Last year, Iguodala joined LeBron James as the only players to average at least 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
Iguodala would be able to spell Kobe Bryant at small forward and could also play as a big guard alongside Fisher or Blake. You know what you get day in and day out with this player—in 486 games he’s averaged 15.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.79 steals in 38.1 mpg. He shoots 46 percent from the field, 32 percent from three-point range and 75 percent from the charity stripe.
Iguodala has been the source of trade rumors all season and, as the 76ers slip further in the standings, now would seem the ideal time for the Lakers to make an offer.
Let’s say: Artest, Blake and a first round draft pick. Or two. After all, he's still just 27 years old (on January 28). Such a trade would be a blockbuster.
Stephen Jackson of the Bobcats: Instant Offense Up Front
Stephen Jackson of the Charlotte Bobcats would provide instant offense and veteran leadership on the court.
One can never have enough solid scoring offense from the forward position. Day in and day out, that’s what you’d get with Jackson, the 6’8”, 215 pound forward for Charlotte.
His 18.5 points and four assists per game would be welcome additions for the Lakers, and he brings another experienced player who would fit into Coach Phil Jackson’s triangle quite well.
Jackson has played and excelled on six NBA teams since coming into the league with the Nets in 2000. He’s known more for his offense than defense and would provide a spark for the Lakers bench complementing Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and Steve Blake.
Jackson has been a starter, averaging 36 minutes a contest this year, but may be willing to accept a backup role for the opportunity to win an NBA ring.
No one seems safe these days with Michael Jordan’s Bobcats, including Jackson. He could end up as part of a blockbuster deal involving Portland or Denver, but if you’re Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak you have to give it your best shot in trying to secure the services of this very reliable scorer.
Jameer Nelson: A Penetrating, Assist-Loving Playmaker for the Point
With Derek Fisher and Steve Blake already manning the point guard position, why would the Lakers be interested in trading for Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson?
On the surface, the 6’, 190 pound Nelson might seem to be more of the same. But, take a closer look and you'll see a playoff veteran, a 9th year NBA star who is about to turn 29 and just now entering his prime years.
Fisher is 36 and Blake almost 31. While Blake is thought to be a steady, decent perimeter shooter, neither can match Nelson when it comes to driving to the hoop and dishing off to his teammates.
A move to the Lakers this season would be as the new starter, essentially sharing minutes with Fisher until he decides to hang up his sneakers. The Lakers would probably move Blake, sending him to Orlando, along with one of the Lakers young forwards (Derrick Caracter) and a draft pick.
Nelson has played his entire six-year career with the Magic and averaged almost 14 ppg during that time. He’s a playmaker as well—with his 6.6 assists per game this year being the most in his career.
Combined with a scoring average of 13.7, Nelson is responsible for over 28 points per game, more than enough to secure a No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs for L.A.
Steve Nash: Still Searching for that NBA Ring After 15 Seasons
A continual source of concern to Lakers fans has been the need for a stronger point guard. Derek Fisher is a proven champion and brings leadership qualities to the team that are hard to come by these days. But he is in need of help at the position and so why not look to secure a suitable complementary piece?
What about 37-year-old Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns? He and the Suns continue to say no trade is imminent but the team may be looking to shed some salary as it looks to the future.
Nash is still one of the top point guards in the NBA, averaging close to 11 assists per game in this his 15th year. He’s playing 32.5 minutes every night and scoring 17 points per game, assuring him of another trip to the All-Star Game when it's held next month in Los Angeles at Staples Center.
Nash is owed a total of $22 million for this year and next following a contract extension with the Suns. It would be a major coupe for the Lakers, but acquiring this future Hall of Famer to play and share point guard minutes with Fisher would make the Lakers extremely tough to beat.
Nash plays a game that is tailored for the triangle offense. He’s turned assists into a high art form and is typically responsible for 35-40 points per game when combined with his career scoring average of almost 15 ppg.
Better still, Nash connects on 50 percent of his shots from the floor and has a career free throw percentage of slightly over 90 percent.
Just imagine Nash moving the ball around the perimeter, finding Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or Kobe Bryant for easy buckets. He's another guy still looking for that elusive NBA ring—the Lakers may be the perfect fit.
Shannon Brown Deserves More Minutes with the Lakers
Shannon Brown Stayed With L.A. Despite More Lucrative Offers.
Perhaps it's time to move Lakers big guard Shannon Brown into more of a starter’s role by increasing his minutes to complement those of his second unit teammate Lamar Odom.
If L.O. is the glue that anchors the Lakers bench, then Brown is the firecracker that can quickly erupt into a lot of points.
The Lakers should thank their lucky stars that Brown did not bolt for greener pastures following the team’s defeat of the Celtics last summer.. No longer a kid but still developing at 25, the 6’4”, 210 pound fourth year pro from Michigan State has proven he can play with the best guards in the league.
Brown started the season very hot, hitting three-pointers with alarming consistency. Though he's cooled off somewhat in that department, Brown still connects on almost half from three-point range. His scoring average of 10 points in slightly less than 19 minutes is remarkable.
Brown worked on his outside shooting during the offseason and it’s paying off this year—he makes 43 percent of his shots from beyond the arc to go along with some of the game’s most dramatic, high flying dunks that not only lift the team’s spirits, but also lift about 19,000 Staples Center fans out of their seats to watch this human highlight film in action.
Richard Hamilton: A Steady Veteran Forward Moves Well Without the Ball
Rip Hamilton, 6’7”, 200 pounds, 11th year, Connecticut.
The Lakers well remember Hamilton from the Finals in 2004 and wish he played for them instead of against them. Hamilton and Billups combined for 42 points, 8.5 rebounds and 9 assists in that five game thrashing of L.A. Six years later Hamilton still has the skill set to help a team like the Lakers.
Hamilton is another forward ideally suited for the triangle offense because he moves so well without the ball. He’s not quite as physical as Matt Barnes but you can count on him to score in double digits with regularity.
Hamilton is being mentioned in a number of trade scenarios, so why not the Lakers, who could use his talents at forward? At 13.5 points per game, Hamilton is way off his career average of 17.7, but he still connects on 40 percent of his three-pointers.
His minutes are also down, but that’s partly due to the fact that Detroit is a team in disarray and going nowhere. Hamilton would like to finish his career on top and may be open to a trade to L.A. where he could secure at least a year’s contract extension.
O.J. Mayo: Former USC Standout Could Use a Change of Scenery
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies, 6’4”, 210 pound guard.
This would be an interesting move for the Lakers and would necessitate them moving one or two of their current guards in a trade, possibly Brown or Blake. There’s risk in any move but bringing the supremely talented third year pro from USC back to Los Angeles to play alongside Bryant, Bynum, Odom and Gasol might just ignite the team with the right kind of energy needed to bring them a third consecutive NBA crown.
Mayo is not without his detractors and critics, some of whom say he has not reached the superstar level much of the league predicted for him, going back to his high school days in Huntington, West Virginia and Cincinnati, where he was considered the top high school player in America.
In his first two seasons, Mayo averaged about 18 ppg and made about 45 percent of his shots from the floor. This year, those numbers have dropped off to 13.1 and 41 percent. Still, Mayo just turned 23 and his best years may well be in front of him.
Given the right team situation and playing in front of 19,000 adoring L.A. fans might be the atmosphere that transforms Mayo from a one dimensional scorer into a great playmaker.
A Healthy Andrew Bynum: Lakers Best Option Is Already Here
Andrew Bynum—Back From Injury and Ready to Dominate.
Hey, we remember this guy! Having a healthy Andrew Bynum may be the best non-move the Lakers could possibly make.
When the 7’0”, 285 pound center is fit and aggressive, the Lakers are a totally different team—a dominant one. Witness their beat down of the Knicks on Sunday. Before being kicked out of the game early into the fourth quarter for protesting a foul call by referee Leon Wood, Bynum was superb, scoring 18 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
He totally outplayed league MVP candidate and perennial All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire, who came into the game averaging just over 26 ppg. Stoudemire was just 7-24 and was contested on virtually every shot when Bynum was on the court.
Sometimes the best moves are the ones we choose to pass on. Now that Matt Barnes is down for the count, the Lakers probably will make some moves, but they may be minor, such as recalling rookie forward Devin Ebanks from the developmental league and giving more minutes to Ron Artest.
But, let’s not totally rule out a major move by Kupchak and company. This is the same management that surprised everyone when they were able to bring Pau Gasol to Los Angeles in 2007.
If such an opportunity presents itself again over the next few weeks, the Lakers will not hesitate to pull the trigger. After all, this is a team loaded with top drawer talent that wants to win now.
This is probably Phil Jackson’s final season and his desire to do whatever it takes to capture a 12th ring as coach may indeed trump anything else.