Kendrick Nunn, Horton-Tucker Top Lakers Trade Chips Amid Westbrook Rumors

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2022

Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) during an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Thursday, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers' plan to build a winner in the 2021-22 season didn't work out. In theory, having a Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook was going to allow L.A. to rotate its stars and keep them fresh throughout the grueling NBA season. However, injuries and a lack of team chemistry flushed that game plan down the drain.

James and Davis both missed significant stretches, while Westbrook never bought into the system Frank Vogel was selling. Los Angeles was forced to regularly change lineups, and James, Davis and Westbrook ended up playing just 21 games together.

It all resulted in a miserable 33-win season that cost Vogel his job.

"Obviously, our roster did not work," general manager Rob Pelinka said, per Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers now look to regroup and reload, and the process begins with finding a new head coach. The next step will be tweaking a roster that did not work, and that may be L.A.'s biggest challenge of the offseason.

The Lakers were awarded the No. 8 pick in Tuesday's draft lottery, but that selection is going to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the Davis trade. Their ability to be players in free agency is extremely limited by a bloated payroll that isn't likely to see significant cap relief this offseason.

Los Angeles would be helped tremendously by Westbrook turning down his $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season. However, he's unlikely to get anything close to that on the open market and therefore has little reason not to opt in.

Trading Westbrook and his massive salary would be tricky, too, and that's if the Lakers would even consider trying.

According to The Athletic's Sam Amick, they're instead interested in finding a coach who will build around him:

"Despite the widely held belief that the Lakers would find a way to trade Westbrook before the start of next season, sources say their coaching candidates have been asked to discuss how they would use him in their system during interviews. The takeaway for candidates, it seems, is that maximizing Westbrook's presence after his disastrous 2021-22 season is considered an important part of this job."

What's left for the Lakers if they can't find help in the draft, spend big or move Westbrook? Aside from lucking into another undrafted gem like Austin Reaves, the Lakers will need to move their top role players.

While much of L.A.'s supporting cast is underwhelming, the Lakers do have a pair of potential trade chips in Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn.

According to Sean Deveney of Heavy.com, the two are still valued around the league:

"Surprisingly, that value was not left entirely reduced to ashes by the tire fire that was the Lakers’ 2021-22 season. In fact, a handful of coaches and executives from around the league told Heavy.com that they still very much believe in Horton-Tucker as a prospect, and in Nunn—balky knee and all—as a solid contributor."

Because of injuries—he played only 56 games last season and didn't see the court this year because of a knee injury—Nunn's value may be minimal. He can also play a key role for Los Angeles as a perimeter shooter, something the Lakers desperately need around James and Davis.

Nunn shot 38.1 percent from beyond the arc in the 2020-21 season. If the Lakers decide to punt on his potential return, though, moving him would make sense.

Horton-Tucker, meanwhile, has shown flashes of promise throughout his three seasons but hasn't been developed in Los Angeles. Other teams would be eager to give him an opportunity.

"He is 21 years old. He is playing for the Lakers and development is not the biggest thing there," one Western Conference executive said, per Deveney. "I think most of us would take him on our team in a minute. He is big (6'4") and long, he can handle the ball, he can initiate the offense, he will be a good defender even if he is not there yet. He has value."

For many franchises, moving on from Horton-Tucker before he's a finished product wouldn't make sense. However, the Lakers appear far more interested in trying to win now than developing their younger cast. For them, moving Horton-Tucker would be logical for the right return.

That's the kicker, though. While Horton-Tucker and Nunn may have value, Los Angeles cannot expect a massive return in a trade. We're still talking about role players, one coming off of injury and one whose upside is his biggest asset.

Per Deveney, one executive "threw out" hypotheticals like Miami Heat shooter Duncan Robinson, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley and Houston Rockets center Christian Wood.

Without trading future draft capital as part of a deal—and Los Angeles can't move a first-rounder earlier than their 2027 selection—any trade will likely be a swap of supporting players. That might be enough to improve the cast around James, Davis and Westbrook, but it will all depend on who the Lakers can land.

A shooter like Robinson would be a tremendous asset, but Nunn can fill the role if the Lakers believe he'll be healthy next season. We're unlikely to see a deal involving Horton-Tucker and/or Nunn that suddenly makes L.A. look like a title contender. However, it would be more favorable than anything involving Westbrook.

After Westbrook's disappointing 2021-22 campaign, Los Angeles might have to move that 2027 first-rounder just to unload his salary. That's even less ideal.

If Los Angeles is going to make any significant changes this offseason, it will have to involve the head coach and the players' approach. Finding a way to maximize Westbrook's talents would be a great start there.

However, the Lakers do have trade options in Horton-Tucker and Nunn if they choose to utilize them. We're unlikely to see a major roster overhaul, but L.A. can shake up its supporting cast in the coming months.