There may not be a lot of trade chatter surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers at the moment. But Mitch Kupchak has always been a stealthy general manager when it comes to such things.
Earlier this month, he visited with Chris McGee and Time Warner Cable SportsNet, cautioning that he “wouldn’t suspect a blockbuster deal” before the February 18 deadline.
Not that he would ever telegraph any such transaction beforehand, of course. After all, who saw the Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown deal coming or the Dwight Howard and Steve Nash acquisitions? Or what about that most infamous of coups—the Chris Paul attempt that was squashed by then-commissioner David Stern?
But there are certainly enough clues about players from opposing teams who may be on the block; some that could fit nicely on a rebuilding Lakers roster.
Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings
The rumors surrounding Rudy Gay of the Sacramento Kings have been swirling—this just two years after arriving in a midseason swap with the Toronto Raptors. Per John Reid of the Times Picayune, the New Orleans Pelicans are trying to engineer a deal to acquire the talented swingman.
Currently treading water in last place in the West, the Lakers should also be interested—not in an attempt to rescue this season but for their continuing rebuild. It’s no secret that L.A. is going to be in a hole at the small forward slot next season. Kobe Bryant is retiring, Metta World Peace is older than Methuselah, Nick Young can’t play a lick of defense and Anthony Brown is just a baby.
One solution that would address this problem, and others, would be to send center Roy Hibbert, shooting guard Lou Williams and rookie power forward Larry Nance Jr. to the Kings in return for Gay, backup center Kosta Koufos and young athletic shooting guard Ben McLemore, whose minutes have been chopped significantly this season.
The exchange succeeds nicely in the ESPN Trade Machine, adding one win to the column for Sacramento and handing the Lakers one extra loss as they head toward the draft, hoping to hang onto their top-three protected draft pick. But this also allows L.A. to get a jump on next summer, while still preserving financial flexibility.
The numbers would also work if Sacramento would accept "Swaggy P" Young instead of Williams.
Bleacher Report’s Joel Cordes weighed in on the prospective swap:
Sacto would be gearing up for their playoff push and giving up on McLemore, but he’s exactly the type of prospect the Lakers should be looking at right now rather than giving too many minutes to veterans. Meanwhile, Gay is the type of free agent L.A. would probably have to sign in the offseason anyway, and he’s a more complete player than Young or Williams. And finally, Koufos, who replaces Hibbert, is a younger and more versatile player, and also under a multiyear contract at a reasonable average salary of $8.2 million.
Lakers fans would hate to see Nance Jr. go—the rookie power forward has been throwing down nasty jams and chasing every loose ball in sight since being inserted into the starting lineup in early December. Likewise Williams joined the first unit at the same time, resulting in an impressive scoring tear.
But the starting job is not supposed to be Nance's anyway—it's Julius Randle's. And the Lakers don't know if Nance's ceiling is already close to being it. Overall, this is a deal that works for L.A.—add another elite draft pick and a couple meaningful free agents in the offseason, and this would be a squad to contend with.
Nearly a year after blowing out his Achilles tendon, Brandon Jennings returned to the Detroit Pistons lineup. But much has changed during his time off—Reggie Jackson signed a pricy free-agent deal last summer and has filled the point guard void admirably.
Heading toward his own unrestricted free-agency status, Jennings is facing a pivotal period. It’s not likely that Detroit will pay big for his services next summer.
And so the showcasing begins, with the shot-happy ball-handler showing signs of his old explosiveness as he works his way back into the rotation.
As Fran Blinebery from NBA.com recently wrote: “Because of the comeback from a significant injury, Jennings might not be on the move until closer to the February trade deadline after he's been given a chance to show he's healthy and become a valuable commodity again.”
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on the Lakers’ interest in Jennings one year ago. There are, however, a couple new wrinkles this time around: such as how would Jennings fit in with a crowded guard rotation that already includes prized rookie D’Angelo Russell, sweet-shooting Williams, sophomore Jordan Clarkson and Euro-vet Marcelo Huertas?
That’s a gamble L.A. would take—acquiring a true point guard on an expiring contract and ascertaining his contributions and future worth before making a decision on a free-agency contract.
But if the Lakers are that worried about a backcourt logjam, or the Pistons don't want to rely solely on Steve Blake and Spencer Dinwiddie at the 1 (something that didn't work out too well prior to Jennings' return), Huertas could be added to the deal.
But Detroit needs something in return—such as added firepower for its bench. Jodie Meeks is still rehabbing from foot surgery, and nobody on the second unit is averaging in double figures.
Enter Young who would give the Pistons instant buckets. And as a sweetener, the Lakers could toss in Ryan Kelly, who could help stretch the floor from the power forward position.
The Trade Machine says the deal works, without affecting the win percentage for either team. That’s good news for the Lakers as they try to preserve their top-three protected draft pick. But it would also rid them of Young’s contract moving forward, thus increasing future spending flexibility.
Solomon Hill, Indiana Pacers
As mentioned in the Gay scenario, the Lakers will be in serious need of help on the wing next season.
Enter Solomon Hill from the Indiana Pacers. A year ago, the 6’7” swingman was a starter. Now he’s merely an afterthought, averaging less than 10 minutes per game. Hill also has been made available for trade, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.
At 23, the muscular third-year player has a long reach, quick hands and plays aggressively on both ends of the floor. He also has room to develop and would fit in nicely with the Lakers’ youth movement.
In return, Indiana would receive Kelly. This is not just a convenient dump. The former NCAA champion was highly regarded by Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and flourished under Mike D’Antoni during his rookie season in Los Angeles.
More importantly, the Pacers have put a premium on shooting, something Kelly offers that Hill really doesn't.
Kelly would provide excellent court awareness, a nice outside shooting touch and decent mobility for his size. He hasn’t had much of a role for the Lakers this season, but he has been lighting it up for their D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders, with 27 points, 7.3 boards, three assists and 1.3 steals per game over seven appearances.
Indiana declined to pick up its option on Hill for next season. Kelly also will be an unrestricted free agent. The salaries match for the Trade Machine, and these two members of the 2013 draft class offer something intriguing to their prospective new teams.
There’s nothing concrete to suggest that any of the above exchanges are in the works for the Lakers. And that’s just fine for a front office that likes to keep its maneuvers hidden from view.