The first half of the season has made evidently clear that this Lakers squad is a flawed unit. Their top three in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum is as good of a championship core as there is in basketball. After that, there is Matt Barnes, who is having a respectable season as a backup combo forward, and the rest of the roster, none of whom can put up a PER better than 10. Needless to say, this won't do. Even with the playoffs, where you can compensate for having a weak bench by simply playing your starters more due to the numerous timeouts and rest between games, a supporting cast of this caliber isn't going to see the team back to the promised land.
The upside to this conundrum is that the players around the big three are so bad that even a modest upgrade could have a tremendous effect on the rest of the roster. If you are still dubious, observe the example of Steve Blake and how much smoother the offense runs when he takes the place of Derek Fisher. Blake, a serviceable backup point with decent court vision and most of all, an ability to run the pick-and-roll, is enough to give the Lakers offense a much needed boost. Past the point, the Lakers could use an upgrade at the three due to the moribund offensive ability of Metta World Peace and really, any scoring punch off the bench would be welcome. After the jump, we will review the Lakers' trade assets and the trade options that have been running through the rumor mill.
The Lakers' principal means to grease the wheels of any potential trade is the traded-player exception (TPE) they acquired in the Lamar Odom deal, giving them the ability to take the salary of any player making less than $8.9 million. The advantage of the TPE is that the team sending a player out does not have to receive any salary in return, giving them financial relief and a new TPE equal to the salary of the player who was sent out. This is especially attractive if a player is on a multi-year deal, as the TPE is arguably better than an expiring contract in that case. Draft picks and small salaries may still be put into the deal, so sending back a first or second rounder along with the TPE is a possibility.
Past this, we have a variety of small assets. The Lakers' first- and second-year players, Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris, and Andrew Goudelock, all have very small salaries of below a million, so it is very difficult to use them as the centerpiece of any deal not involving the TPE, but they can sweeten any potential transaction by offering a young talent the receiving team can develop. None of the aforementioned players are especially attractive prospects, with Ebanks likely the best of the bunch, but they do provide a minor young talent that provides some value. Similarly, the Lakers may offer first or second round draft picks, likely from 2012 and 2014 to avoid the Ted Stepien rule. The downside is that the 2012 draft, diminished somewhat in luster but still very deep, can give the Lakers a valuable and inexpensive rotation piece during a time when the Lakers are thinking of downsizing their payroll due to the onset of the harsher luxury tax and repeater penalties. That noted, any major transaction would almost certainly have to involve draft picks, especially if we are looking at a marquee player.
Josh McRoberts, one of the Lakers' off-season acquisitions, is another player likely on the way out. He lost his rotation spot to Troy Murphy due to his lack of spacing ability, and without a point guard that can feed him on cuts or as the roll man after setting a pick (cough) Chris Paul (cough), this is unlikely to change. McRoberts arguably falls into the "young talent" classification as well as he's a 24-year-old with nice hops and a still burgeoning game. Before he came to the Lakers, the Pacers nearly dealt him to Memphis for OJ Mayo in a deal that came a few minutes too late after the 2011 trade deadline, so he has a decent amount of value. Besides McRoberts, there is Matt Barnes, although parting with Barnes is difficult unless another productive bench player is coming in return, as Barnes is arguably the only one currently on the roster. The remainder of the Lakers roster outside of the big three either has onerous contracts (Steve Blake, Metta World Peace, Luke Walton) or is painfully unproductive (Derek Fisher, Jason Kapono).
A final but brief note on the big three before we go into some possible trade targets. Of the three, Pau Gasol is the one most likely to leave, but only in the right deal. The Lakers have two giant holes at the one and the three, and are only moving Gasol if those holes are filled with an All Star-caliber player along with an adequate replacement at the four, or such a formidable array of depth and picks that it behooves the Lakers to make the deal. This deal likely is not going to become available before the deadline, but trading Gasol is a very real possibility in the off-season, especially if it nets the Lakers a nice piece along with a high draft pick. For Andrew Bynum to be on his way out, the Lakers require either Dwight Howard or a staggering, blow-your-socks-off deal that is simply too good to turn down. Unlike Gasol, Bynum is a key piece of any future Lakers core, and as a result, will require something in return that fills that role. Finally, we have Kobe Bryant, but the list of things that make a Kobe trade unfeasible are too long to list; his no-trade clause and massive salary already make any deal practically impossible.
Without further ado, let us go into some players who have been discussed as possible trade candidates to the Lakers and others who are on the market:
- Why would we want him? -- Because he's a good point guard and can run a pick-and-roll. We could end there really. Sessions has issues on the defensive end and you have to question whether his shooting this year (43.5% from behind the arc) is fluky given his career norms, but these flaws get thrown out the window when compared with the current level of talent the Lakers have at the position. The Lakers desperately need a real point guard in the worst way and Sessions provides that.
- Why would Cleveland want to trade him? -- He has a player option for next year that he is unlikely to exercise and Cleveland drafted Kyrie Irving, who has all the makings of a stud. As a superfluous piece, the Cavs understandably are interested in moving him for potential assets.
- What would he cost? -- At least a first rounder, from what reports out of Cleveland say. Past that, it gets dicey. The Lakers could offer the TPE, but that kills a number of other trade scenarios for players that make more than Sessions. McRoberts along with any of the rookies works salary-wise, although that might dampen the Lakers' willingness to throw a first rounder into the deal. It ultimately depends on how willing Cleveland is to move Sessions and whatever competing offers are available, but the Lakers generally have a solid shot here. The principal problem is that Sessions is likely walking after this season, so unless he accepts a reasonable deal to stay, burning assets on him carries an element of risk.
- Why would we want him? -- Because he offers some scoring punch at both forward spots and the Lakers' bench is currently bereft of that. He's a minor headcase, plays poor defense, and it might be somewhat risky bringing him to a state where medicinal pot is legal. That noted, he still is only 23 years old and his talent got him drafted second overall in what now looks like hell of a draft class. Given a more concrete role and a better environment than the one he had in Minnesota, it is possible he might flourish into a nice piece.
- Why would Minnesota want to trade him? -- There is a giant glut at the forward spots courtesy of David Kahn's drafting, and Beasley is also stifling the development of another number two overall pick in Derrick Williams by sitting in front of him in the rotation. Moving Beasley to the four isn't a solution because a certain Kevin Love plays there, and it looks unlikely that Beasley will be a part of Minnesota's seemingly exciting future.
- What would he cost? -- Unknown, but we can likely venture that the TPE is required because getting to $5 million in salaries without including pieces even Kahn would hold his nose at requires throwing McRoberts, Barnes, and one of the rookies into the deal. That's not a bad deal if you consider Beasley a suitable upgrade, but that's a lot of the Lakers' trade chips thrown together for one piece. Given the aforementioned glut of forwards on Minny's roster, it is likely that Kahn would be satisfied with salary relief and perhaps a second rounder in return instead of trying to fit a bunch of new players into an already crowded rotation. Keeping Beasley after this year simply requires exercising his qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent, and given his questionable history, it is unlikely any team gives him a deal the Lakers would decline to match. Whether that means that he simply plays out the last year of his deal or accepts a small deal to keep on playing in L.A. is another concern, but keeping him shouldn't be that much of an issue.
- Why would we want him? -- He's been slightly better than Fisher this year? Really, the only hope here is that Felton recaptures some of the magic that made him an above average starting option for the Knicks and later the Nuggets last season. He's been awful so far this season and would be quite the gamble to pick up as a solution for our point guard woes.
- Why would Portland want to trade him? -- Since he's been so bad that he was benched in favor of gunner and long two extraordinaire Jamal Crawford. Even though Portland increased its pace this year from its traditional snail walk, Felton hasn't thrived as he did in New York and Denver and is one of the reasons Portland looks thoroughly mediocre as of late.
- What would he cost? -- Odds are on the TPE. Felton makes a sizable $7.5 million this season and unless Portland wants its former point guard in Steve Blake back, any deal not involving the TPE is highly unlikely due to the difficulty in matching salaries. Moreover, this is Felton's walk year and while his disastrous play this year has killed a good deal of his value, an uptempo team might pay more for his services than the Lakers would be willing to match. Ironically, if he plays well for the Lakers, that all but ensures his exit, making this a losing proposition all-around for the Lakers.
- Why would we want him? -- Because he's a very serviceable low usage (16.2), sweet shooting (43.2% from three) forward who defends well and has a nice bit of athleticism. In many ways, Williams is a bigger Trevor Ariza with a better jumper. If Atlanta hadn't taken him ahead of both Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 draft, he would have a much better vibe about him.
- Why would Atlanta want to trade him? -- He is reportedly disgruntled with his role in Atlanta, although he dutifully declined that this is the case when asked about it by the media. Given Atlanta's troubled ownership situation, they also might want to relieve themselves of the remaining $15.8 million they owe him over the next two years.
- What would he cost? -- Assuming Atlanta wants to trade him, the TPE and maybe a pick. It's a hefty salary to take on for this level of player, but Williams would provide a nice piece at the three and give the Lakers no regrets about sending Metta World Peace away with the amnesty axe. Note that the Lakers have not necessarily been connected to Williams as a possible suitor -- indeed, all reports say that Atlanta hasn't found a team willing to take on his salary -- but given their areas of need, he undoubtedly has to be considered an option.
- Why would we want him? -- Because he's an elite point guard. Maybe borderline elite with his aggravating lack of a jumper, but he brings solid court vision, a constant threat in the lane, and lockdown defense at a position that has plagued the Lakers for years. He's not Chris Paul by any standard, but he brings much of the same strengths that the Lakers need to run their offense and make Brown's system work.
- Why would the Celtics trade him? -- Logically, this doesn't make much sense. With a very old core in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, Rondo should be the piece the Celtics build around as they transition into the future, but apparently they aren't interested in doing so per Larry Coon. Instead, they want to use Rondo as a trade piece to get a veteran player who can help Boston on one last charge towards a title.
- What would he cost? -- Pau Gasol. It's a high price to pay, but Rondo is young (26) and gives the Lakers a future core to compete with while improving their chances at current contention. Coon asserts that the Lakers would ask for Brandon Bass rather than Jermaine O'Neal back in order to fill the space at the four, and if so, it would cover all the bases the Lakers want to hit with a potential Gasol trade. Even if O'Neal is coming instead, the TPE and the rest of the Lakers' trade chips could fill the hole at the four and possibly the three with Beasley or Williams while enjoying the fruits of having a real point guard running the offense.
- Why would we want him? -- He's the best defensive player in the game, a bona fide superstar, and a top five player. No more needs to be said.
- Why would Orlando want to trade him? -- If they were truly afraid of losing him for nothing. That is the only consideration and it whether it is true or not depends on whom you are talking to. So many reports are available on this that it is downright impossible to sift through all of them and try to make a coherent picture, particularly since Howard himself hasn't made up his mind yet. At this point, we'll know what the situation is when he's finally traded.
- What would he cost? -- Too much. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol is what Orlando would want if they decide to deal him and it's debatable whether Howard, dominant as he is, is worth two of the Lakers' top players. Even if Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu follow him to L.A., neither of whom can be said to be a solid starter at the point or the three, the Lakers would still have a host of questions to answer about the rest of the roster, and you have to wonder whether that team is better than keeping the Lakers' current core and adding pieces around it. Finally, Howard's willingness to stay in L.A. even if he is traded there is a question given his desire to test free agency regardless, and needless to say, having him leave would be an unqualified disaster of epic proportions. If traded for just Bynum and pieces, it might be something the Lakers would be willing to risk, but that would be much easier if a certain Chris Paul also happened to be on the roster.
UPDATE (3:30 AM): This has been covered quite a bit on the other thread, but for the sake of completeness, let's review the most recent addition to the trade rumor mill:
- Why would we want him? -- He's an elite point guard. Where you place him in the hierarchy varies, but there's no disputing that he's at least in the top ten or even the top seven or so. He does all the things you would ask of a point -- shoots well from the perimeter, attacks the rim, distributes off penetration or the pick-and-roll, and uses his possessions efficiently. He is not necessarily superlative in any single aspect on offense, but he does a solid job generally in about everything. On the defensive end though, he is tenacious, uses his athleticism well to stay with opposing guards, and is masterful at taking charges. Defensive metrics say that he's been cheated out of a few All-Defense spots the past few years.
- Why would Houston want to trade him? -- We really don't know beyond the fact that they like Pau Gasol. As most Laker fans are painfully aware of, Houston was willing to give away Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and the Knicks' 2012 first rounder away to get Gasol in the aborted Chris Paul trade. This would basically be the trade reinvented with Lowry and Scola going to L.A. and Gasol back to Houston. The difficult part is seeing the endgame for Houston here -- it is arguable whether Gasol makes them a better team, and unless they want to throw their cap space at Deron Williams or Steve Nash in the offseason, their future prospects are cloudy as well. Gasol undoubtedly is an upgrade on Scola and would pair with Samuel Dalembert, Patrick Peterson, and Chandler Parsons to form a fairly solid frontcourt, but it's a far cry from the one with Nene that Morey imagined when he agreed to help grease the wheels on the Paul trade. While Dragic can fill the spot at the point quite ably, draft bust Jonny Flynn becomes the primary backup, and he hasn't shown much since his first year with Minnesota.
- What would he cost? -- Pau Gasol, as previously mentioned. It's definitely a great trade for the Lakers. They get an elite or at least borderline elite point who is only 25 years old and gives the Lakers a means with which to contend in the future. They also get Luis Scola, who is having a poor season by his standards but is still a serviceable replacement at the four and has been playing better recently. Finally, they would still have all their remaining trade pieces (the TPE, their draft picks, McRoberts, and all the rookies) available to upgrade at the three. There is very little downside for the Lakers in making this kind of deal, but again, the question is why Houston does so. Even without Lowry, Houston possesses the adequate shooting and spacing to give Gasol the opportunity to show the full range of his talents, but you have to wonder whether a 22-23 PER Gasol is worth Houston's future in Lowry.