5 Trades Los Angeles Lakers Should Already Be Considering
The Los Angeles Lakers are still in the tinkering phase of their massive rebuilding project.
And they're in the market for assets.
If free agency becomes their road back to relevance, they need better talent to attract top-tier targets or increased financial flexibility. If drafting and developing players is the more feasible strategy, they should focus on collecting picks and upside-rich prospects.
We have identified avenues for the purple and gold to follow no matter which path they pursue. Those don't involve ditching Luol Deng's dead money because we're not miracle workers. But the following five trades can deepen the talent pool, restock the draft shelves and do it all without cutting into their coveted cap space.
Buying Low on Big Jah
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Jahlil Okafor
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Corey Brewer, 2018 second-round pick (via DEN), 2019 second-round pick (via CHI)
Before Magic Johnson was the Lakers president of basketball operations, he was a huge Jahlil Okafor fan. The admiration was strong enough Johnson lobbied on Twitter for L.A. to make the big fella the second overall pick in 2015.
The Lakers opted instead for D'Angelo Russell, while Okafor was snatched up by the 76ers third overall. But two years later, the center has nosedived into the clearance bin. Philly declined to exercise his 2018-19 option, and they're now seeking out deals that league sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski "could be centered on future second-round draft picks."
The Lakers can put two on the table—one that could almost function as a late first if the Chicago Bulls keep themselves in the cellar. Add a dart throw in Brewer to beef up the wing depth, and that could be enough for Philly to bite.
While L.A. is crowded up front for now, it doesn't have a guaranteed center for the future. Brook Lopez, Julius Randle and Andrew Bogut are all playing on expiring deals. Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant, meanwhile, can't match Okafor's pedigree as a prospect.
Okafor isn't the cleanest fit in the modern game, but he has tremendous hands and a surplus of scoring skills around the basket. He's productive when he plays (career 20.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes), but he's been so restricted by the Sixers that he won't command the money Randle and Lopez will collect in free agency.
From a macro view, it's an anemic return for Philly, but the franchise torpedoed his value by shackling him to the bench. This might be as good as it gets.
A Move for Mario
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Mario Hezonja
Orlando Magic receive: Josh Hart, 2018 second-round pick (via DEN)
With the Lakers unable to compete this season and unwilling to take on future salary, their buying options are limited. But Hezonja fits their shopping list—young, inexpensive and playing on an expiring contract.
Like Okafor, Hezonja is a 2015 top-five pick who did not have his fourth-year option picked up. Despite some early success, the Magic remain in the self-evaluation process, and Hezonja hasn't had the opportunity to prove he's worth keeping
"The decision to allow Hezonja to become a free agent next summer has a mutual benefit for a new front office who didn't draft him, and a player and agent who are eager for a change of scenery and a chance to prove that Hezonja can justify the interest that exists for him elsewhere," Wojnarowski wrote.
The Lakers need a player like the good Mario, a 6'8" swingman with dunk-contest hops and a three-point-contest stroke. No one shoots a worse percentage from three than L.A. (29.8), and only three teams operate less-efficient offenses. Hezonja is far from an automatic fix, but his upside makes him an intriguing option to address the problem.
As the Magic have made their Hezonja assessment known, and not in a way that inflates value, the price should be right. Hart—who's less than two weeks younger than Hezonja—and Denver's 2018 second should do the trick. Hart offers the two-way play and stability Orlando could use for a playoff push. Hezonja's higher ceiling should hold more appeal in Hollywood.
It's a risk, but a low-priced one at least. And the reward is higher than Hezonja's career marks would indicate. It's not a stretch to think he could help L.A. move closer toward its desired offensive stride or even become a preferred receiver of Lonzo Ball.
Make Bogut a Midseason Rental
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Reggie Bullock, 2018 second-round pick
Detroit Pistons receive: Andrew Bogut
Bogut has looked out of place from the moment the ink dried on his one-year, $2.3 million contract. He's a win-now veteran on a going-nowhere rebuilder, and his 7'0" frame has become an impossible obstacle for the prospects behind him.
"Where will Luke Walton find playing time for Bogut?" ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton asked in September. "... Presumably, the youngsters will take a back seat, which is disappointing given they have the chance to be part of the Lakers' long-term future."
Bogut isn't receiving a ton of minutes (7.2 per night), but he is getting them regularly (played six of their eight games). That's part of the reason sophomore Ivica Zubac has only two minutes on his season tally, and rookie Thomas Bryant has yet to make his big league debut.
If Bogut was brought in for guidance, he'll have provided plenty of it by the time he's eligible to be traded in mid-December. At that point, L.A. can shop the former All-Defensive second-team selection to a hopeful-contender with a soft spot in the middle.
The Pistons could use a traditional backup behind Andre Drummond. Whatever was supposed to happen for Boban Marjanovic hasn't, and he's been rendered unplayable. Eric Moreland has spent his brief NBA career behind emergency glass. Henry Ellenson stands 6'11" and somehow has a 36.8 career field-goal percentage.
If the Pistons want to chase the postseason, Bogut could get them closer. And if the Lakers land a second-rounder, they will have extracted solid value out of their minimal investment. Bullock would make the money work—and potentially add three-point shooting—and his 2018-19 salary is not guaranteed.
Let Someone Else Decide Randle's Worth
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Alec Burks, Sean Kilpatrick, 2018 second-round pick (from UTA), 2018 protected second-round pick (from BRK, via IND)
Brooklyn Nets receive: Julius Randle, Corey Brewer
Utah Jazz receive: Trevor Booker
The Lakers were never going to have an easy time determining Randle's economic value. He is uniquely skilled for his size—tied for eighth among players 6'9" or taller with 3.6 assists last season—but bigs who find success in today's Association without perimeter shooting or shot blocking are few and far between.
The frontcourt traffic jam further complicates matters, although it's temporarily less crowded after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his thumb. But Nance earned a starting nod, and rookie Kyle Kuzma is already shattering expectations. Add in L.A.'s super-sized dreams for 2018, and Randle looks as expendable as ever.
"Randle and the Lakers have been drifting apart for years, and now it's starting to feel like they are heading for an inevitable divorce," Bill Oram of the Orange County Register wrote. "If Randle lets things like coming off the bench and delayed contract gratification affect his performance on the court, as it appeared he did in the season opener, he could hasten that process."
L.A.'s best move might be to move him now and not risk letting him walk for nothing or overpaying him later. The Nets could be a welcome trade partner for the second time this year following the Brook Lopez-D'Angelo Russell swap. They need more young talent in the frontcourt, and they can afford to fit Randle into their long-term financial plans.
As for the Jazz, they not only return a former fan favorite, they also address a void for a third big behind Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Ekpe Udoh isn't about to stumble into an offensive game at 30 years old, and Jonas Jerebko was subsiding on mop-up minutes before injuries forced him into action.
The Lakers are giving up the best player in this deal, which often equates to losing it. But they have cheaper replacements on hand for Randle, and the addition of Burks—who's getting lost in Utah's wing shuffle—would make it easier to move Jordan Clarkson and his longer, costlier contract. Kilpatrick could be a cheap source of scoring if L.A. keeps him, while the two picks are extra rebuilding tools.
Facilitating Bledsoe's Exit
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Eric Bledsoe
Phoenix Suns receive: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, 2018 second-round pick (via DEN)
First off, let's address the elephant on this slide and appease an assuredly fuming LaVar Ball—no, this is not an indictment on Lonzo. Yes, Bledsoe and Ball are both point guards by nature, but that wouldn't preclude them from sharing the floor.
Playing with another lead guard would be nothing new to Bledsoe. And his gravitational pull on defenders—he's quietly one of only six players to average at least 20 points and six assists each of the last two seasons—could mean more spot-up chances for Ball and upward mobility for his 27.8 three-point percentage. Since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can defend both backcourt spots, this should be a workable three-guard rotation.
Bledsoe has been marooned by the Suns since a cryptic tweet led many to believe he wanted out of the desert. Could adding him muddle L.A.'s two-pronged plan for free agency? It might. But maybe a more realistic plan would be targeting one superstar, and if that becomes the approach, Bledsoe—who shares an agent with LeBron James—might be the Lakers' best recruiting chip.
Now, moving Randle and Clarkson in the same deal without dumping Deng's contract is admittedly less than ideal. However, if there is a move to be made that sheds Deng's burdensome deal, it wouldn't be for a player anywhere close to Bledsoe's caliber. And if the Lakers aren't planning on keeping Randle anyway, this dramatically upgrades from just Clarkson to Bledsoe at the bargain rate of a second-rounder.
Could the Suns do better? It's possible, although Bledsoe's value isn't exactly at peak levels right now. Randle has shown more ability than Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, while Clarkson would help Devin Booker shoulder the scoring load. Clarkson's shoot-first tendency could also shift more playmaking responsibility over to No. 4 pick Josh Jackson, who averaged 5.4 assists per 100 possessions in college.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.