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Lakers Trade Rumors: Examining Cons of Reported Goran Dragic Pursuit

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2015

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 10: Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns shoots against the Houston Rockets on February 10, 2015 at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Barry Gossage/Getty Images

A star's name has come up on the NBA trade market, which can only mean one thing: The Los Angeles Lakers are throwing their hat into the ring.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported over All-Star Weekend that the Lakers and Houston Rockets are expected to pursue Goran Dragic if the Suns make him available before Thursday's deadline. From a Rockets perspective, this makes perfect sense. Houston would prefer a consistency upgrade from Patrick Beverley at the point guard spot and has a legitimate chance of winning the Western Conference.

From a Lakers perspective, this also makes perfect sense. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have returned from injury to recapture their All-Star form, while first-round pick Julius Randle looks like a superstar in the making. Coupled with Nick Young's surprising rise from inefficient gunner to the NBA's leader in shooting percentage and Wesley Johnson finally realizing his lottery potential, the Lakers are one player away from a deep playoff run.

Wait...none of those things happened? Nash, Bryant and Randle are out for the season? Young is having as much success from the field as his girlfriend does with Twitter beefs? Johnson is still not-great at basketball? And the Lakers are on pace to obliterate their franchise-worst season, which they set only a year ago?

Oh. My bad. Then trading for Dragic makes zero sense. Here's why.

Not Only Are the Lakers Bad, They Need to be Bad

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LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 24: Robert Sacre #50 of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jeremy Lin #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Wesley Johnson #11 of the Los Angeles Lakers sit on the bench during a game against the Sacramento Kings on October 24, 2014 at the MGM Gr
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Sitting at 13-40, the Lakers have the fourth-worst record in basketball. From a talent standpoint they're probably worse than the neophyte Timberwolves, who have enough NBA-level players to make up the two games separating them from the Lakers by the end of the season. The Knicks and Sixers out East will be competing down the stretch to out-tank one another.

All of this should result in the Lakers having the third- or fourth-best odds on lottery night. In their worst-case scenario, their pick would land seventh. Given the historic unlikelihood of multiple teams jumping into the top three, odds are they would end up no worse than fifth.

Any Lakers fan knows why that's so critical. The Suns are still owed a first-round pick for the horrendous-in-retrospect Steve Nash trade. That pick for the 2015 draft carries a top-five protection, meaning the Lakers hold onto it as long as it's fifth or better. Sixth? That puppy goes to Phoenix.

Acquiring Dragic doesn't move the needle enough to suddenly make the Lakers playoff contenders or even a competent basketball team. He does, however, make it more likely that pick heads back to his current stomping grounds. The Lakers are five games ahead of Orlando and six games ahead of Utah and Sacramento in the loss column.

A fully unleashed Dragic is good enough to swing at least one or two games the remainder of the season. If one of those other teams falls off a cliff (Orlando being the most likely), then the Lakers could be sitting at the dais with the fifth-best odds and thus one leaper away from giving up their selection.

Exactly What Are They Trading?

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Jordan Hill #27 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against the Chicago Bulls at STAPLES Center on January 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Lakers are one of the most asset-poor teams in basketball. Their roster features no one close to the caliber of player Phoenix would want in a potential Dragic trade. Jordan Hill is the only player who might spark a modicum of intrigue, but Phoenix can get 75-80 percent of his production on the buyout market without giving up its best player.

We are, of course, assuming the Lakers wouldn't do anything insane, like give up Julius Randle, for these purposes. Also unlikely, but theoretically possible: eliminating protections from the first-rounder they owe Phoenix. I hope we can all agree that everyone involved with the organization should be fired if either of those scenarios play out.

Lakers Draft Picks Owed
YearRoundTeamStipulations
20151Phoenix Suns1-5 Protected (2015) 1-3 Protected (2016, 2017) Unprotected (2018)
20152Orlando Magic31-40 Protected (2015) Pick Does Not Convey After 2015
20171Orlando Magic1-5 Protected (2017) 1-5 Protected (2018) Unprotected (2019) (Pick must convey 2+ years after Phoenix pick)
RealGM.com

Because the Lakers owe still owe a future first-round pick to Orlando for the Dwight Howard trade, any future draft consideration is out the window. They would be looking at a 2019 or 2020 pick, which is of little interest to a Phoenix team looking to contend for a playoff spot.

The Lakers' only other attractive asset comes in the form of a 2015 first-round pick owed to them by Houston for taking on Jeremy Lin's contract. That pick, if the season ended today, would be somewhere between No. 25-27.

Thus, the Lakers' best offer for a former All-NBA player who Phoenix wants to retain would be Hill and a late first-round pick. To put it another way: It's the type of deal you'd bludgeon a friend over with an XBox controller if he tried offering it to you in 2K.

Dragic Is a Free Agent This Summer

Feb 8, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) drives baseline against Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Self-explanatory. Jordan Hill and a first-round pick is a terrible offer for someone of Dragic's caliber, but it's also one they don't have to make. The Lakers can pursue Dragic this summer without the burden of shipping away a first-round selection who could eventually become a useful bench piece (a reasonable expectation for a pick in that range).

There is zero incentive to acquiring him now. He'll make you better, which is bad. He'll make you give up the only terrible assets you own, which is bad. He has the option of leaving if he hates Los Angeles, which, again, is bad. 

Because it is a free country, you are allowed to be of the opinion that trading for Dragic is a good idea. That is just a bad opinion. You wouldn't want to be a bad opinion haver, would you?

The Only Real "Pro" Is Also a Con

OK, OK. There is one semi-cogent argument to be made in favor of the Lakers pursuing Dragic now rather than waiting for the summer.

By acquiring Dragic before the trade deadline, the Lakers would also land his Bird rights. For those unfamiliar, Bird rights are a loophole in the NBA's salary cap that allows incumbent teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own players. Rules like this are why the NBA has a "soft" cap rather than the "hard" ones deployed in the NFL and NHL.

Because the Lakers will be significantly under the cap heading into the summer, the Bird rights are mostly irrelevant. They will have more than enough space available to offer Dragic a four-year maximum contract, which would fall near the $80 million range. 

Jan 31, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) looks for a foul call against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

What could intrigue the Lakers, however, is the opportunity to offer Dragic a fifth year—something only an incumbent team can do in this collective bargaining agreement. The Suns' maximum offer for Dragic tops out around $100 million. I took basic algebra to satisfy my gen-ed requirement in college and I can do that math. Acquiring a player's rights before he hits free agency also acquires his financial incentive to re-sign.

Here's where we examine whether that's a good thing. The Dragic of 2013-14 is undoubtedly a max player in today's NBA. He was a whirling dervish of shot-creation, perhaps the rightful heir to Manu Ginobili's throne as the league's most difficult player to decipher.

That version of Dragic hasn't shown up this season.

His scoring, free-throw rate, assist percentage, effective field goal percentage and nearly every other major offensive statistic/metric has gone down. Phoenix has shown no real attrition on either end of the floor with him on the bench.

While some of that can be attributed to the Suns' logjam at point guard, it's worth examining whether Dragic's 2013-14 campaign was more of an outlier than ascent to superstardom. His win shares per 48 minutes are almost perfectly aligned with his career average. Same goes for his shooting percentages. Dragic also ranks in the 47th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler and 25.1 percentile in isolation, two areas where he blitzed the league a year ago, per NBA.com. 

The version of Dragic who showed up this season is still a very good player. "Very good" isn't worth $80 million, much less $100 million—even in a climate where the salary cap is exploding in 2016, rendering the current idea of a "max" contract moot.

Whatever team signs Dragic will be paying him at least through his age-32 season. Doing so at a $20 million per year clip doesn't sound appealing, especially when factoring in his defensive deficiencies.

In a nutshell: Acquiring Dragic means jettisoning the tiny assets remaining in a bare cupboard for the right to overpay a player who may have already peaked. Smart NBA teams don't do this. The Knicks do this. And if there is one lesson of NBA team-building, it's this: Never, ever go full Knicks.

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

All stats are via Basketball-Reference unless specifically cited

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