LOS ANGELES CA - FEBRUARY 01: Luis Scola #4 of the Houston Rockets is defended by Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half at Staples Center on February 1 2011 in Los Angeles California. The Lakers defeated the Rockets 114-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Yesterday, TheGreatMambino provided a list of potential trade targets for the Lakers. Now we present three trade scenarios that could net the Lakers a few of the players that TGM discussed. Before digging into the trades, there is one major stipulation that needs to be discussed: total team salary.
In today’s NBA, trades are often made with a focus on finances, particular tax liabilities, rather than talent. The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) puts additional pressure on management to reduce payroll or face extremely steep tax payments. The Lakers are in an especially precarious position as one of the league’s biggest spenders. Without a reduction in payroll, the Lakers' tax bill would be over $60MM (higher than the total salaries of 8 teams). With that type of potential tax penalty, the Lakers may focus first on reducing payroll and second on obtaining talent. Our trades will focus on salary reduction as a major aspect of the deal.
With that being said, here are a few of the more likely scenarios that could address the Lakers' concerns while reducing salary.
Trade partner: Houston
With this trade, the Lakers address arguably their biggest problem area, point guard, while taking only a minor decrease in production at the power forward position. Lowry is one of the better defensive point guards in the league and a solid three-point shooter (37% in each of the last two seasons), two qualities that are most desirable of a Lakers point guard. He also is a solid distributor as well which would relieve some of the burden on Kobe Bryant to generate looks for his teammates.
Luis Scola is likely a better fit for the Lakers than most fans realize. Pau Gasol has been relegated to the third option and plays mainly from the high post. As good as Pau is at shooting the mid-range shot, Scola has actually been better. This season Scola shot a little better than Gasol from 10-15 feet and 16-23 feet on the same number of attempts. Make no mistake, Gasol is the better player because of his well-known passing ability and underrated shot blocking, but a third option is not worth the $19MM per season Gasol is owed in each of the next two years.
This team would have the makings of championship contender. The Lakers would possess four starters who, when focused, are capable of defending at an All-NBA level (Scola being the exception). There wouldn’t be a single weak link defensively on the perimeter with Lowry, Bryant, and World Peace. Add Bynum's presence at the rim and teams will have a very tough time scoring on the Lakers.
Offensively this team may gel better than Lakers starters this season. Scola is more comfortable playing away from the basket and doesn’t hesitate to take an open 15-foot jumper. Lowry provides the shooting ability to spread the floor like Blake but the threat of dribble penetration like Sessions. Teams won’t be able to get away with packing the paint on defense as much.
Financially, the Lakers save roughly $4MM in salary next season and $3MM in 2014. Scola’s contract does extend into 2015, but Kobe’s contract will have expired by then and any contract extension would surely come with a significant pay reduction, making Scola’s contract easier to swallow. Locking in a solid power forward and point guard for less than $16MM combined is about as good as it can realistically get for the Lakers.
If the Lakers and Rockets are truly in a dealing mood, some other potential players could be very desirable as well. The Lakers would be well suited to try and obtain either Courtney Lee or Chase Budinger. Both Lee ($3MM) and Budinger ($1MM) are on very small salaries and both made over 40% of the 200+ three-point attempts each took last season. Lee is also a solid defender and would serve as a legitimate solution for the back-up shooting guard position. In small ball line-ups, the Lakers could put MWP at four, Bryant at the three, Lee at the two, and Lowry at the one giving the Lakers three shooters capable of making over 37% from deep and not one being a defensive liability. That type of support around Bryant and Bynum would provide plenty of floor spacing on offense without the downside of playing defensive sieves (like Jason Kapono and Steve Blake). Adding Sessions to the deal would give the Rockets a solid back-up to Goran Dragic at the point and would allow the Lakers to take on Lee while saving another $1MM in salary next year.
Trade Partner: Atlanta
Deal: Pau Gasol ($18.7MM) for Josh Smith ($13.2MM)
This deal is probably the most straight forward one-for-one swap the Lakers could make with Gasol. Atlanta hasn’t been able to progress to contender status with their current core and could use a shake-up. Gasol could be the answer as he would work well with Al Horford inside and give the Hawks the size they need and the inside scoring presence they are lacking.
For the Lakers, this deal would significantly reduce salary but also set up arguably the best front line defense for years to come. If scoring over the supreme size of Andrew Bynum didn’t strike fear into the opposing offense, the threat of an always lurking Josh Smith for the help side defense should. The Lakers would possess two of the top nine shot blockers in the league with the oldest (Smith) being only 26 years old. Smith is not a great jump shooter and would be a step down from Gasol in that aspect but his passing is arguably just as good. Yes, I just said that. Smith is vastly underrated as a passer. Smith had more assists per game than Gasol this season and had a higher assist rate than any Laker in the playoffs.
Finally, Smith helps address two of the Lakers' biggest weaknesses last season: forcing turnovers and transition points. The Lakers were not just bad in the battle of turnovers, they were epically awful. The defense did not force turnovers and thus never got out and ran the other way. Enter Josh Smith. Smith’s 93 steals last season far surpasses the Lakers team leaders in Bryant and World Peace, both with only 69. Furthermore, the thought of Sessions running the break with a high flyer like Smith on the wing should make Lakers fans salivate while giving Dr. Buss flashbacks of the Showtime era.
Financially the Lakers save roughly $5.5MM next year and more after that depending on how much they re-sign Smith for. The Hawks, however, may not want to take on the additional salary that the Lakers are saving and may ask the Lakers to take back another contract, particularly Marvin Williams or Zaza Pachulia, who makes some sense for the Lakers. Including him in the deal means the salaries are essentially identical and Pachulia provides the Lakers with an experienced back-up center to fill Gasol’s other current role. His deal has only one more season so the Lakers would maintain some flexibility going forward. Williams, on the other hand, is somewhat redundant with World Peace. They are both small forwards, both shoot the three with good efficiency, and both have deals for roughly $8MM per year for two years (the last ones being player options). World Peace is the better defender but Williams is the younger player that won’t decline quickly. Taking Williams doesn’t make much sense unless World Peace is heading out and the odds of that happening are slim.
The other potential players of interest for the Lakers are free agents Kirk Hinrich and Vladimir Radmanovic. Both players are free agents this summer but could be worked into a sign-and-trade deal for the Lakers. Hinrich is a feisty defender and decent outside shooter who would work well as a back-up to Kobe. Radmanovic, meanwhile, would be an excellent floor spacer as a back-up forward off the bench. Neither player would command much of a salary and could provide good value for a Lakers bench that was lacking in both talent and experience.
Trade Partner: Philadelphia
Deal: Pau Gasol ($18.7MM) for Andre Iguodala ($13.5MM)
Another straight forward one-for-one swap, this trade wouldn’t provide quite the bang for the buck as the aforementioned Josh Smith deal unless other players are worked into the deal as well. For Philadelphia it is almost a no-brainer. They have another capable small forward in Evan Turner who needs playing time, and they could use an inside scoring presence.
For the Lakers, the move is almost a sideways one. The upgrade of Iguodala over World Peace doesn’t match the decline from Gasol to whatever back-up power forward the Lakers would be forcing into the starting line-up. Furthermore, the Lakers would have over $22MM per season tied up in small forwards for the next two years. The only way a deal like this makes sense is if the Lakers could move MWP for a decent power forward. That may seem like an impossibility given no other team appears to want him, but with a little creativity a solution may be available.
One of the only ways to trade away a player no one wants is to trade for a player that no one wants. Enter Elton Brand. Elton Brand has been frequently discussed as an amnesty candidate, but the Lakers may actually find value in taking Brand back. Brand is owed a ridiculous $18MM next season; however, it is the final year of his contract. The Lakers could send MWP to Philadelphia while taking Brand back in exchange, thus solving the problem of no power forward and too much money tied up in small forwards.
Brand has been labeled a bad contract for so long that he may now be one of the most underrated players in the league. He had the same field goal percentage as Gasol from 16-23 feet and a slightly better percentage from 10-15 feet. That may not be too surprising given his skill set, but the following will be… Elton Brand had a lower turnover rate than ANY Laker last season; Brand had more steals per game than all Lakers other than Bryant and World Peace; and most surprisingly of all, Brand had a higher block rate than any Laker, even besting Andrew Bynum. Yes, Elton Brand is actually a very good basketball player. In fact, his PER of 18.0 was actually better than Andre Iguodala’s 17.6. I am not claiming Brand to be better than Iguodala, but perhaps it makes perfect sense for the Lakers to demand Brand be included (to which Philadelphia would certainly agree). Philadelphia wouldn’t have much use for World Peace but paying him for two more seasons would still result in savings over paying Brand for one final season.
For the Lakers, Brand may in fact be an almost perfect power forward to add to the team. He would be the 4th option and what more could you ask for from a 4th option than a player who can hit the open shot, defends pretty well, doesn’t demand touches, and is a consummate professional. The Lakers would have to eat his salary next season (which will be painful) but could look to re-sign him for quite cheap the following year (he won’t command much as a free agent). Paying Brand $4-5MM for two or three seasons until he is 36 years old is actually quite the deal for what he produces.
If the Lakers were to throw in Josh McRoberts in exchange for a future draft pick as well, the salaries would essentially be the same next season, but the Lakers could see savings of up to $14MM the following season, plus get a draft pick out it. It would be an effective way of reducing salary and keeping a championship-contending roster, all while improving the team long term by adding the 28-year-old Iguodala to the roster.
There are bound to be many rumors flying around regarding the Lakers, especially with Gasol likely on the block and so many holes for the team to fill. The three above are some of the more straightforward and likely scenarios given the rumors currently being discussed. It will be on Mitch Kupchak to pull out another deal that improves the Lakers while reducing salaries. It may seem impossible, but then again Mitch was able to flip Luke Walton for Ramon Sessions so anything is possible.