In pair of deals today, the Lakers made a significant effort to change the fortunes of their franchise this season, landing Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Luke Walton and Jason Kapono, and in arguably the most surprising transaction since the Pau Gasol trade, Jordan Hill from the Houston Rockets for Derek Fisher. Both of the Lakers' first round picks in the 2012 draft, their own and the one acquired from Dallas in the Lamar Odom trade, were also shipped out, indicating the degree to which the team has set its sights on competing in the present and make no mistake, these trades have certainly changed how we view this current team.
All this season, we have complained about the play of the Lakers' point guards, especially their inability to run the pick-and-roll aspect of Mike Brown's San Antonio-inspired offense. Well, that looks to change in short order, as Sessions is a quality pick-and-roll point that fills that role and with Fisher's departure, there should be little question of whom the Lakers value among their point guards. After the jump, we will examine what the Lakers' new acquisitions can contribute to the team this season, what the Lakers gave up to acquire them, and the future implications of the deals that were made and not made at the deadline.
As noted above, Sessions, who has long been in the cross hairs of the Lakers' front office, will have a big impact in terms of how the Lakers conduct their offense. Sessions is an able distributor off the pick-and-roll who can penetrate into the heart of the defense, pass to bigs and shooters, and is actually a threat to finish at the rim. Both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have had to operate this season with one other competent offensive option on the floor in Kobe Bryant, and that will certainly change. Sessions averaged 17.8 points and 11 assists in four games this season as a starter in Cleveland when Kyrie Irving was out with injury, and needless to say, Cleveland doesn't have anything remotely resembling the offensive options Sessions will have in L.A. From both a schematic and production standpoint, Sessions is a slam dunk acquisition, especially considering his clear superiority (16.44 PER) over Steve Blake (8.87 PER) and Derek Fisher (9.01 PER).
Some caveats, however: Sessions has historically been a mediocre at best outside shooter and an indifferent defender. This season, he has bucked that description by shooting 41.9% from behind the arc, although he still is poor from midrange with a 24% mark from 10-15 feet. One could consider this a statistical anomaly, but it is important to remember that Sessions is only 25 years old and is still developing. It is one thing to consider a shooting percentage like Lamar Odom's outburst last year a fluke and to treat Sessions' numbers as one as well. Either way, however, Sessions' shooting has to be considered against the mediocre marks from Fisher (32.4%) and Blake (32.7%) from three point range, so even if Sessions is having a hot streak, he looks awfully good in comparison. As for Sessions' defense, the Lakers' point guards weren't savants at that end either and the defense is quite used to adjusting for poor point guard defense.
The other player that joined Sessions in leaving Cleveland for L.A. was Christian Eyenga, the Cavs' 2009 first rounder. Right now, Eyenga, a native of the Congo, is very raw and more athlete than basketball player. He has a poor handle, lackluster jumper, and needs an awful lot of seasoning before he looks ready for the NBA. He was projected as a solid defender due to his length and athletic ability, and while he does make the spectacular block every now and then, he lacks discipline on defense and as previously noted, needs a lot more experience to be effective. Nicknamed "Skyenga" in Cleveland, Eyenga will throw down big dunks, but isn't going to do anything for the Lakers this season. He probably will find himself on the Lakers' D-League affiliate pretty soon and there is little hope that he is a diamond in the rough like Shannon Brown was in the Vladimir Radmonovic deal in 2009.
The final new Laker of the afternoon is Jordan Hill, or as he is known in New York, "The guy we picked in the 2009 draft instead of Brandon Jennings." New York dealt him to Houston as part of the Knicks' final salary dump to prepare for the 2010 free agent bonanza, and he has shown since then that he is essentially a good backup center, rather than the quality starter you usually expect of the eighth pick in the draft. That noted, for the Lakers' purposes, he is a solid third wheel in the Lakers' frontcourt rotation that has been very shallow behind Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Hill has produced well this season (15.36 PER), rebounds well (19.4 rebound rate), and provides a lot of energy for an otherwise moribund bench unit. He is a bit of a tweener, too short for the center position but not fast enough to check fours, but those distinctions mean less for backups, especially with Hill's energy. Altogether, he is in many ways similar to former Laker Ronny Turiaf, sans the passing ability and wild bench dancing, and that's a nice piece for the Lakers' bench.
As for what the Lakers gave up in this deal, Luke Walton and Jason Kapono are obviously hardly a loss of any sorts, aside from Luke's comedic factor. Back injuries have stymied Walton's career and Kapono has been awful in the designated shooter role he was signed to fulfill. Giving up a pick in a deep 2012 draft smarts somewhat, but when it comes down to it, Sessions, a relatively young 25 year old point, is the kind of asset you want to get with your draft picks. The Lakers, moreover, likely perform solidly down the stretch of the season, and there's a big difference between picking in the low 20s and at the very end of the first round. Naturally, if Sessions leaves, it is a high price for a rental, but the Lakers can offer Sessions a starting role on a contending squad for the forseeable future, and he undoubtedly would find that attractive.
Naturally, the bombshell of the day was that Derek Fisher, long Laker stalwart, is on his way out after spending much of the decade as the Lakers' starting point guard. From a basketball perspective, there is an obvious reason that Fisher was dealt: he hasn't been a good basketball player for quite a while. His career was supported in a big part by the triangle offense, in which he didn't have to run the pick-and-roll, direct the offense, and do the things required of point guards in a more traditional scheme. In Mike Brown's offense, he was, pardon the pun, a fish out of water, and the Lakers' front office clearly recognized that something had to be done, as seen in the aborted Chris Paul deal.
The flip side is that Fisher was one of the key leaders of the team, and just as he led the players' association this past summer in the lockout, he was one of the important voices in the Lakers' locker room, offering a counterweight to Kobe Bryant. Kobe himself enjoys Fisher's presence, and the locker room definitely has to reorient itself after the events of today. All this said, you make moves for what is happening on the court, and cold as it was to send away a cherished Laker role player, this move had to be done to help the Lakers' present fortunes. Fisher has been a class team player for all his career, but telling him that he would have to be benched in favor of Sessions probably wouldn't have gotten down well, nor did the team likely want to deal with a similar saga next season, as Fisher had a player option he almost certainly would have exercised.
Today was also notable for what didn't go down, as multiple reports stated that the Lakers tried to land Timberwolves' forward Michael Beasley in a three way deal with Portland and Minnesota. Beasley definitely is a better player than Jordan Hill, and would have provided a nice source of scoring off the Lakers' bench, but he wasn't as high of a priority as getting a real point guard. The Lakers also did not use their traded player exception, as both of their moves sent salary out to keep the payroll down, and it was unlikely that the Lakers were going to take on salary just to add Michael Beasley. The TPE, moreover, does not expire until December and there is a lot of time for the Lakers to make use of it. For starters, it could be important leverage near the draft as teams are looking to dump players and the Lakers certainly could leverage some useful assets with it. It also could help with a Pau Gasol deal, as while Pau is no doubt pleased that the trade rumor season has ended, the Lakers are definitely looking for a star they could acquire (cough) Deron Williams (cough).
Altogether, the Lakers had a pretty solid day in the trade market. They filled their biggest need at the point, defused a potential issue by shipping Fisher out to resolve the point guard glut, and got a decent backup center to supplement the frontcourt rotation. The loss of the first rounders hurts, but unlike previous Laker moves made to dump picks for salary purposes, this is definitely a worthy return for them. The TPE is still available for Laker fans to crunch possibilities in ESPN's trade machine, and the Lakers' prospects for this season look bright. We shouldn't say that the Lakers are close to Oklahoma City's level before we see this new squad in action, but it is fairly safe to say that this current iteration has a much better chance against them than the last.
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