Wednesday night, we all watched as Kevin Durant held his arms up high, galloping back down the court as his Oklahoma City Thunder sealed an improbable comeback series victory over the highly vaunted San Antonio Spurs. Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook are on their way to the NBA Finals, and regardless of if they face the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics, will undoubtedly be viewed as the heavy favorites to win their first NBA title.
With that image of KD, arms raised in victory, the Los Angeles Lakers got a free preview of the NBA's -- and their -- future. This team of young, hungry basketball savants aren't going anywhere anytime soon, and more than ever, the Lakers must retool to match up with the changing tides of the league. The 2011-2012 Lakers were a flawed unit, most notably in their poor three-point shooting, bench scoring and pick-and-roll defense. Though they had athletic players on the team, they were on the whole a slower, more physical squad who would routinely get abused by younger, faster opponents. GM Mitch Kupchak has promised change, which has led us to speculate what could be a big trade or two.
Below, we've identified some of the players that will be available on the trade market this off-season. Organized by position, we've also identified why the Lakers would want to trade for a player, as well as why his team would agree to a deal. Some ideas are more far-fetched than others, but each with their own logical reasoning for ever happening. Tomorrow, Actuarially Sound will take a look at exactly what the Lakers could be sending back to consummate a few of these deals.
Why would we want him: Because Deron is the 1A to Chris Paul's 1 in the "Who's the best point guard in the NBA?" debate. The Lakers tried in vain to patch up the gaping hole they had at the 1-guard spot before the season, but the machinations of David Stern diverted them in another direction. LA still has the same problems in the backcourt that they had a year ago, except everyone on the team is a year older, and a bit more expensive. Like Chris Paul, Deron Williams would improve ball movement in a relatively stagnant offense, as well as add his own deft scoring touch to a team filled with deadly offensive threats.Why would the Nets want to trade him: Well, they don't. But they might have to. The now Brooklyn Nets, betrothed with slick new robes and colors reflecting minority owner Jay-Z, will shortly move into a sparkling arena with a billionaire owner backing them. Seeing as they've already given up the number 3, 2 and 6 pick in successive years to try and keep Williams, the cupboard is bare to try and trade for another star to play alongside their All-Star point guard, and keep him in BK for the long-term. If faced with the proposition of offering up expensive new seats to see the same crappy team that played in the Jersey swamps, the Nets MUST find a star to market to their consumers. Dwight Howard isn't walking through the door anytime soon, and free agency won't have the type of help that Deron Williams is asking for. Enter, the Lakers.
Why we would want him: Because cheap, All-Star-caliber 26 year-old point guards are hard to come by. During Lowry's break-out 2012 campaign, the world got to see that he's not only capable of being a starting point for the Rockets, but also one of the top-10 in the game. His speed, court vision, shooting, aggression and fearlessness were all surprisingly polished facets of his game. While he was still healthy, he nearly led Houston to the eighth seed and himself to an All-Star berth. This guy is an absolute stud in all facets of the game, and one of the most underrated players in the league.Why would the Rockets want to trade him: What was once an unspoken undercurrent during the 2011-2012 season has come to the front since April. Lowry hasn't jibed with new coach Kevin McHale all season, a situation that's only been exacerbated by the point guard's back injury, which forced him to miss the last month of the season, as well as the emergence of Goran Dragic as a certifiable starter. If Houston is able to retain Dragic, an unrestricted free agent, Lowry could be trade bait going forward.
Why would we want him: Because he's a scoring point guard that will put pressure on interior defenders. Jennings is not nearly as ideal for this Lakers offense as say, Deron Williams or Kyle Lowry, but he certainly is better than anyone the team has on-hand. His negatives are obvious: he shoots almost 17 times a game to a mere 41% clip, and only 33% from distance. He's only 6'1" and 170 lbs, and not exactly a lock-down defender. His concentration seems to wane game to game, with his performance vacillating between being a solid, scoring back-up in the vein of Lou Williams, to being a franchise cornerstone. He's an LA boy, so perhaps a return trip back home would drive him towards the latter. The risks are high with Jennings, but so are the rewards.Why would the Bucks want to trade him: Jennings, only in his third season at the age of 22, has already expressed the desire to leave Milwaukee for a larger market, despite true free agency being more than 2 years away at the time (Strike One). The Bucks can't be happy with an impetuous young guard with questionable shot selection hinting that he wants to skip town, and perhaps it showed in that they traded for Monta Ellis this past February, despite the Golden State import having an extremely similar game to Jennings (Strike Two). Milwaukee is still a lottery team, but with a lot of their cap room going to unrestricted free agent Ersan Ilyasova (should be re-signed), trading a potentially unhappy Jennings - especially seeing that he might be redundant with Monta on the team - could be the only other way to improve a Bucks squad that's far from being a title contender.
Why would we want him: Because he's the answer to all the Lakers' ills at small forward. The "other AI" is one of the league's best perimeter defenders, capable of ably shutting down the pick-and-roll as well as locking up any wing player the league has to offer. Offensively, he's an incredibly productive slasher and finisher, with a free throw acumen far better for his career (73%) than he showed last year (61%). His 3-point percentage could be a bit of an outlier for him in 2012 at 39% compared to his career mark of 32%, but considering he's been his team's 2nd best offensive option the past few years, Iguodala is sure to get far more open looks playing with the likes of Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant rather than say, Spencer Hawes and Jody Meeks. Lastly, he's got 2 years and around $30MM left on his contract, but that last year is a player option for $15.9MM. Definitely a steep price for Andre, but seeing how much he could improve the Lakers' small forward situation, he might be worth it.Why would the Sixers want to trade him: In this new CBA, Iguodala is a third option getting paid like a first option. In 2011-2012, his salary was in the top 30 and with raises in the next two seasons, will be bumped up into the top-25 and top-20 neighborhood, respectively. He's a part of a Philly team who wants to switch their focus to 23-year-old Evan Turner and build around him. Unfortunately, by the time that Turner (supposedly) would be able to lead the team, Iguodala will be gone. I don't think that Sixers management is foolish enough to think that this year's second-round appearance was anything more than a result of Derrick Rose's knee and Joakim Noah's ankle crumpling like aluminum. This is still a team in rebuilding mode, and AI shouldn't be a part of their future plans.
Why would we want him: Because like Iguodala, he answers a lot of the Lakers' problems, as well as his own on the Pacers. Granger is a bit miscast as the leading man for an Indiana team with the third best record in the East, but not quite at the upper echelon in the league. In the mold of Deng and the aforementioned Iguodala, Indiana's small forward is a defensive-minded perimeter wing whose length and footspeed is difficult to match. Moreover, Granger is the type of scoring SF the Lakers sorely missed this season, whose effectiveness will shine especially with double teams on either Bynum, Pau or Kobe. Most importantly, he's an absolute bomber from long, sinking on 38% of his 3-point shots over his career.Why would the Pacers want to trade him: Simply put, Paul George. The second year man from Fresno State raised his numbers across the board this year, after a purported 2-inch growth spurt between this and his rookie season. Similarly, George's bank account is about to take a hike as well - this time next summer, he'll be eligible for a long-term extension with Indiana, which the team will be sure to jump on right away. Combined with whatever regretful contract Roy Hibbert signs this summer with them, it looks like there might not be enough room for Granger (only under contract for two more years). At a lanky 6'8", George looks like the small forward of the future for the Pacers.
Why would we want him: Because Smith would add a mix of defensive intensity, athleticism and offensive explosiveness not seen in a Lakers small forward since James Worthy hung 'em up. Toiling away on an Atlanta team perpetually stuck in basketball purgatory, Smith has gotten overlooked for being one of the most complete players in the league. His willingness to defend, hustle and fill in his team's gaps (similar to Iguodala or Lamar Odom) makes him an ideal fit for a Lakers team that needed a wing defender and scoring threat. He's less ideal than say, Granger or Iguodala due to his poor 3-point shooting, but his skill can't be denied, especially relative to LA.Why the Hawks would trade him: Though postseason mediocrity hasn't deterred the Hawks from making essentially no changes to their core for the past 3 seasons, the time could be now for Atlanta to think about a makeover. The Hawks have badly needed more bigs for years now, and Josh Smith masquerading as a power forward just doesn't work. Smith is in the last season of his deal, and even though he hasn't expressed desire to either stay or leave Hotlanta, that money would be best served bringing in either a playmaker or big man to help out Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams, all of whom are tied up in long-term deals.
Why would we want him: Because in the never-ending parade of redundant NBA small forwards, Deng is the next in line. Similar to Iguodala, Smith and Granger, Deng is a fantastic defender, especially on the perimeter (just ask Kobe). His offensive game has been criticized a bit, but with an improving 3-point touch (around 35% the past two seasons), he's become a much deadlier scorer.Why would the Bulls trade him: With Carlos Boozer serving as the lion's share of their salary cap balast, the only way that the Bulls can get an effective second scoring punch to go along with Derrick Rose is through trade. This Bulls team is imperfect, and though they haven't been tested beyond last season's playoff run, on paper they don't have enough to compete with the Heat, the charging Pacers or the OKC Thunder. Deng and Joakim Noah are their only trade chips they have to improve the very over the cap Bulls.
Why would we want him: Because he's a better fit for the Lakers system than having Pau or Andrew park their butts 15 feet away from the basket. In the offensive scheme that Mike Brown has set up, one of his two bigs is used on the high post as a screener for either a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop. We saw this last year with Pau's diminished effectiveness at the high post (and what I presume would also be Andrew's in that spot). However, that's the place where Amar'e's bread is buttered. Stoudemire has a great shooting touch from 15 feet, part of his role as a deadly pick and roll/pick and pop player, which is only positively affected by how good of a point guard he plays with. His rebounding and shot blocking won't match up with either big the Lakers have right now, but his offense can't be ignored, especially in the system Mike Brown employs.Why would the Knicks want to trade him: Two words: Fire extinguisher. But in all seriousness, the Knicks need toughness, rebounding and size, all of which (despite the common misconception) either Pau or Andrew could bring to the table. Amar'e and Carmelo have only played together in spurts due to injuries, but as we've seen with coach Mike Woodson's short tenure with both players active, it's apparent that he doesn't have a system in mind where both can work effectively in tandem. To begin with, Anthony and Stoudemire were a bit redundant, so improving a team that's over the luxury tax in the Knicks would have to come with moving Amar'e.
Why we would want him: Because Chris Bosh has gotten so overrated that he's now a bit underrated. A seven-time All-Star, the "Three" in Miami's Big Three is at his best shooting from 15 feet and crashing the boards after one of the Heat's superb wing players misses. He could be a more proper fit for the Lakers with his shooting touch and speed, a la Stoudemire. Also, like any player that runs alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant, Bosh's value has been somewhat distorted the past couple years. He's still capable of being an effective low-post threat and has averaged over 10 rebounds in three seasons while in Toronto. The Lakers could be getting a player whose value is lower than it should be, or perhaps lower still if the Heat don't win the title this year.Why would the Heat want to trade him: As I just said, if the Heat don't win the title this year, even with the caveat that Bosh has missed games and is now playing while very limited, changes will be demanded in South Beach. Though cooler heads could prevail, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Bosh's dome was the second to roll, stopping right alongside coach Erik Spoelstra's.
Why we would want him: Because he'd be able to give the Lakers everything Bosh would, except with better low post game and defensive toughness. Even with 3 years, $30MM left on his deal, Scola's polished offensive game at 15 feet, as well as his tough post D and rebounding are too good to pass up. He'd fit in perfectly as the pick-and-roll guy for Kobe at the top of the key, as well as ably subbing for whatever big begins the game manning the low post. Aside from his lack of shot blocking, Scola is an ideal fit for Mike Brown's offense.Why would the Rockets want to trade him: Realistically, the only way that Houston trades an affordable, valuable guy like Scola is if they can get a superstar big in return. He gives such value per dollar for the Rockets that I can only see them trading him if they can import the All-Star that GM Daryl Morey has sought for so long.
Why we would want him: With only one year left on his deal and Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter taking more and more time in Ty Corbin's big man rotation, Millsap could be a disposable asset for a still rebuilding Utah team. Paul is a fantastic hustle player, whose rebounding is nearly unparalleled throughout the league. While he might not mix well as a starter with either Pau or Bynum parked right under the hoop, due to Millsap's expiring contract, the Lakers might not have to give up either of their All-Star big to acquire him. Thus, he'd be the perfect compliment to both guys that can dominate off the bench and give the Lakers a nightly spark.Why would the Jazz want to trade him: As mentioned, Millsap is working on an expiring contract, and with his play, might be pricing himself out of Utah's budget going forward. The franchise is still rebuilding, and though Kanter and Favors are fantastic prospects with high ceilings, they're not yet ready for prime time. Millsap could be used to garner more prospects or draft picks, a shrewd mood for a team setting themselves up the road.