Most NBA teams would be happy with a 34-15 record at this point in the season, a winning percentage of .694, sole possession of first place in their division and a player most consider to be the game’s best closer. But, then, these are the Los Angeles Lakers, and they are not your ordinary NBA team.
The two-time defending champions are just 6-4 in their last 10 games, including a lost weekend where they were punked by the Sacramento Kings and ambushed by the Boston Celtics. It took overtime for the Lakers to get by the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, and tonight they were to face the league’s top team in San Antonio, a club they lost by 15 to on the road in late December.
A decisive win over the Spurs would quell some of the trade talk.
Either way, this year’s Lakers have been inconsistent and often lethargic. This week, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak uncharacteristically talked openly about a possible trade to shore up their weaknesses. Jerry West called them old, and Magic Johnson criticized their uninspiring play. These are truly trying times in Lakers Nation.
Aside from a few immovables (Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and probably Derek Fisher), virtually everyone on the Lakers is expendable given the right scenario. A trade is not out of the question for most any player.
There really are just a handful of Lakers who would bring quality players in a trade. Kupchak and the Buss family have to be considering all possibilities, given the way the league's most expensive team has underperformed.
Let’s take a look at a group of Lakers that may be worth moving in a trade in order to shake up the makeup and get the team back on track. Remember, in order for the team to get some help, they will need to give up some talent in return. Nothing is free, especially in the NBA.
One of the most popular players with fans, Luke Walton has long been recognized for his court sense and basketball intelligence. Now in his eighth year, the 6’8” forward is an excellent facilitator and could help a team looking for some insurance as they head towards the playoffs.
Walton has seen limited action this season, averaging 8.8 minutes per game and two points per contest. Although a favorite of Coach Phil Jackson, Walton is certainly expendable.
The downside is his contract: He is in the fourth year of a six year, $30 million deal. Some team would need to be willing to take on $5 million a year for a player whose best season was four years ago when he averaged 11.4 points, five rebounds, 4.3 assists and 33 minutes per game.
The Lakers need better perimeter shooting. It certainly is not coming from Walton. It may be hard to trade him, but the Lakers are probably exploring their options with this one.
The Lakers signed Blake in the offseason to fill a hole left by the departure of free agent Jordan Farmar. What they got was a 6’3” playmaker who would rather pass than shoot, though he can be an effective presence from beyond the arc.
Blake connects on about 40 percent of his three point attempts, but the problem is that he doesn’t take enough shots. He plays over 20 minutes per game but is averaging just under five points—not very productive numbers.
Prior to joining the Lakers, Blake had stints on both Portland and the Clippers, and in both cases shot over 40 percent from three point range, averaged five or six assists and averaged between seven and 11 points per game.
Blake would be an attractive addition to a playoff hungry team. He’s not productive enough in L.A.
Here’s a player who before being injured in early January was having one of his best seasons since coming into the league seven years ago. The 6’7” forward from UCLA took over minutes from starter Ron Artest and was averaging more than 20 per game when he went down with a knee injury against the Hornets.
Barnes was putting in 7.4 points, grabbing close to five rebounds, two assists and one steal every game. He was the king of the intangible hustle points for the Lakers and brought more energy off the bench than anyone.
The injury and subsequent surgery is a first for Barnes, and he’s attacking rehab with the same vigor that he showcases on the court.
A trade would be a gamble for both L.A. and the team they trade him to because of the unknown, but Barnes is expected back in the lineup sometime in late March. If we only had a crystal ball.
One minute we hear that Artest wants out of Los Angeles so he can play somewhere “fun,” the next minute he tells the media that he loves playing in L.A. and being a part of the Lakers. One game Artest is locking down the other team’s offensive threat, the next game he’s getting burned for 30 points by the Celtics’ Paul Pierce.
In his defense, Artest was not 100 percent last Sunday after Boston center Shaquille O’Neal smacked all of his 350 pounds into the thigh of the Lakers power forward. Artest was a non factor in that Boston game, playing 23 minutes and scoring three points.
But, he did not offer excuses.
Artest told ESPN.com: “I got hit in the first quarter against Boston. Paul (Pierce) had 30 and all the media started saying how I can't stop Paul Pierce. He's a great player, I guess. ... I've had a lot of good games against Paul. I think I've won the majority of the battle. I took a big hit. I never get hurt by anybody, but Shaq (O'Neal) accidentally kneed me in my thigh. I couldn't move and I'm still feeling the effects. ... Unfortunately, it happened in a big game on ABC on Sunday."
Why trade the player who almost single-handedly brought the Lakers back from the brink of defeat in Game 7 of the Finals and who is still considered one of the best man on man defenders in the game?
Because Ron Artest still has value, and it’s always better to move a player when they are performing rather than waiting until they begin to fade.
A Lakers loyalist who passed up some major money to stay with the World Champions, Brown is excellent trade bait for a team in need of defensive help and outside shooting. He's been off the charts in some games this year, a streaky player who can light up the scoreboard or disappear and get beat off the dribble on the other end of the court.
Brown is averaging 9.6 points in just 18.9 minutes per game. The 6’4” fourth-year guard out of Michigan State would certainly be attractive to a lot of teams looking for instant offense. He’s the type of exciting player who can get a crowd rocking in a hurry with his speed and patented high flying acrobatic dunks.
In order to get something, the Lakers will have to give up someone of perceived equal value. Brown is just 25 and has a ton of upside potential. He would start for a lot of teams, probably as the two guard.
The Lakers would surely miss Brown and could not give up more than one guard in a trade because they are thin there with only Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and Kobe Bryant remaining.
But his value is such that the team could package him in a deal for a smooth shooting perimeter player who can play guard or small forward.
This is the toughest decision of all. Do the Lakers fold their hand and give up on the 7-footer they drafted out of high school in 2005? Will the injuries ever stop or is Bynum destined for a career plagued by them?
You’d have to say, for the right price, he is expendable. There are very few capable big men playing center in the NBA today, and Bynum is one of them. When he is on the court and healthy, Bynum is a major force in the middle. In 24.6 minutes per game this season, he averages 11.4 points, 57 percent from the field, 7.3 rebounds and almost two blocked shots.
Bynum is being paid $13.8 million this year and those numbers increase to $15.1 million and $16.4 million over the next two seasons. L.A. loves Bynum when he’s healthy and playing, but right now he’s a part-timer. And he just hurt his other knee against Boston and was sidelined against the Rockets.
Rumors surfaced in December about Dwight Howard coming to the Lakers after his Orlando contract expires in 2012. There are scenarios that would have Howard doing a sign and trade in order to come to Los Angeles, with the Lakers moving Bynum and a few players to get him.
If the Lakers attempted to trade Bynum to a team other than Orlando, they’d probably look to get a high scorer in return, probably at the forward position. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol would start as the team’s big men, with Bryant and Fisher in the back court and a new teammate on the wing.
If the Lakers are able to start beating some of the teams at the top (Boston, San Antonio, Miami) and looking more consistent, then all the trade talk will just have been used to inspire this veteran club.
But, if the current trend continues, then look for the Lakers to make a move.