The Lakers are a franchise known around the world for its star power and huge payrolls. However, for those of us who bleed purple and gold, there are two other things the Lakers are known for: poor point guard play and token "human victory cigars". The Lakers partially addressed the first issue by acquiring Steve Nash, but the back-up point guard rotation leaves much to be desired. This lack of talent could be addressed by signing the recently released Delonte West, which would complete the transformation of having the worst point guard rotation in the league to having one of the best, all in one off-season.
West is supremely talented and would significantly help the Lakers, as fellow scribe Mark Travis discussed earlier. The problem facing the Lakers is the huge cost of acquiring him. Even though the Lakers would be getting him at a significant discount given the Mavericks have branded him as a head case and most teams won't touch him, even the veterans minimum would amount to significantly more than that given the tax implications for the Lakers. It is one thing for Dr. Buss to open his wallet when it comes to acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, who will generate additional revenue through merchandise sales and TV ratings. It is a more difficult issue to ask him to open his wallet for a back-up point guard.
In order to acquire West, Buss may ask that Mitch find a way to trim the payroll with the particular targets being Steve Blake or Chris Duhon. If West were to sign, there is no need to have both the 3rd and 4th string point guards each making around $4M per year for the next two seasons. But how do you dump two players who aren't particularly good, are owed a relatively high salary given their production, and aren't on expiring deals? The typical answer is you offer draft picks as the sweetener, but the Lakers can't do that seeing as they used them all up in prior deals. The only way to do it is to find another team who would actually want one of those players and could afford to take on the salaries.
It would seem like a stretch to find a team that has the cap space and would be willing to use it on either of those two players. But in fact, there is one team in just such a position and it is the Cleveland Cavaliers. If you think the Lakers have the worst back-up point guard rotation in the league, you are wrong. The worst back-up rotation belongs to Cleveland in the form of Donald Sloan and Jeremy Pargo (not to be confused with former Laker Jannero Pargo). If you are asking yourself who those guys are, don't feel bad. I had to look them up as I had never heard of them either. Thankfully John Hollinger's profiles give a pretty good description of each player:
Donald Sloan - http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/player/hollinger/_/id/4303/donald-sloan
Sloan played extremely well in nine D-League games for Reno, but couldn't back it up at the NBA level for Atlanta, New Orleans and, mostly, Cleveland. Of particular concern is his inability to space the floor, as he made just two 3-pointers at the NBA level in 25 tries. Sloan shot better on long 2s (37.3 percent), but even this was short of where he needs to be.
Defensively, Sloan was a turnstile and needs to get better. Opposing point guards had a 21.3 PER against him according to 82games.com, his Synergy rating was among the league's worst, and the Cavs gave up 8.3 points per 100 possessions more with him on the court. Sloan also had the second-worst steals rate among point guards.
Sloan's passing was his best asset, averaging 6.3 assists per 40 minutes, but his turnover rate was too high -- a common malady for rookies. The major concerns, however, are that he doesn't space the floor and doesn't defend. Those two weaknesses likely consign his career to 10-day increments going forward.
So the Cavs' back-up point guard can't shoot, can't defend, and is likely going to live on 10-day contracts. Steve Blake sounds pretty good by comparison. If you think the Cavs' other back-up is much better you'd be wrong.
Jeremy Pargo - http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/player/hollinger/_/id/6497/jeremy-pargo
A periodic contributor to Memphis' rotating disaster at backup point guard, Pargo had solid translated European stats but shot bricks with the Grizzlies, making 33.3 percent. Given that they brought him in as a scorer, that was a wee bit of a problem.
Pargo had other issues too, like a phenomenally high turnover rate and an inability to draw fouls, but the crux of the issue was that he couldn't shoot. As a finisher, he was solid, making 60.7 percent at the rim, but outside the restricted area he shot an unfathomably bad 24-of-102. That figure includes 3s, but he was actually even worse on the 2s.
Given his limited burn one must assume Pargo isn't quite this bad, but he'd have to be considerably better just to merit consideration for playing time. Also, he permitted an 18.9 opponent PER according to 82games.com, among other generally unimpressive defensive stats, and will have to improve that area as well. All told, he has an uphill battle to regain the minutes bestowed on him in 2011-12.
Given those two descriptions reflect the only two point guards backing up future all-star Kyrie Iving, you could see why Dan Gilbert may actually entertain the idea of paying for Blake or Duhon. In regards to the salary cap, Cleveland committed $54.2 million this season, but only $28.1 million next year. They certainly have the room to absorb the second year of one of their deals, but would likely want to send some salary back to the Lakers for the current season to ensure they don't go over the salary cap of $58 million.
This is where the Lakers could address the second thing they are known for: having a human victory cigar on the end of the bench. During the Lakers' title runs, there always seemed to be a player who would come in at the end of blowouts and was given the aforementioned "loveable" title. The Lakers have since traded away the two players that most exemplified that definition (Luke Walton and Adam Morrison), but they could look to reacquire Luke Walton as a means of facilitating a deal to move Blake or Duhon.
Walton is owed $6.1 million this season but is on an expiring contract. The Lakers could offer up Blake or Duhon plus Devin Ebanks and Earl Clark in exchange for Walton. Ebanks and Clark both have one year left on their deals and are only owed $1.0 and $1.2 million respectively. Pairing them both with Blake or Duhon would mean that the deal for Walton would be a wash financially this season.
Cleveland would get an upgrade at back-up point guard with the only expense being an additional $4.0 million next season when they have plenty of cap space. At that point the contract of Blake or Duhon would become a great trade asset as an expiring deal to send to a team looking to move a good player for salary reasons. They would improve slightly at the small forward position with Ebanks, and they can take a one year flier on Clark.
For the Lakers, the deal saves no money this year but would save them a significantly amount next year. The reduction of $4 million in salary by not having Blake or Duhon next season could result in tax savings of over four times that amount, or over $20 million total. That type of savings may be enough to convince Buss to open his wallet this season and add West and the subsequent tax hit knowing that next year won't be as painful.
As for the Lakers rotation, Ebanks is likely the best back-up small forward the Lakers have but they could do without his services just fine. Mike Brown has been trying to play Antawn Jamison there, despite the fact that the consensus among fans is that he is a power forward. Another solution, which I prefer, is to give Kobe some minutes at the small forward position, especially when the opposition goes small. Doing so would provide additional playing time for Jodie Meeks who can provide plenty of spacing for the offense as the best shooter off the bench. Walton would also be around in case of emergency and may in fact be a reasonable option given his defensive short-comings could be masked by having Howard behind him and his passing skills would fit in well with Nash and Gasol (not to mention Howard finishing lobs).
The last benefit of such a trade and subsequent signing is that the Lakers would be moving three players and bringing on only two. This reduces the roster from 15 to 14, something they have tried to do each year. This leaves an open roster spot just in case a deal presents itself at the deadline should the Lakers decide to add one final piece. Should a solid veteran suddenly become available, having an open roster spot, not to mention Walton's expiring contract, could help facilitate a transaction.
The Lakers should do everything in their power to see what it would take to land West and solidify the one big weakness still present on this roster. This is just one potential way to do it, but I am sure Mitch Kupchak, the league's best GM, has already put together numerous scenarios and is making calls. In Mitch We Trust.