The trade deadline is on February 20th, leaving NBA teams everywhere just over four weeks to figure out what they need, who has it and if they can complete a deal. This date means more to the Lakers than it probably has in almost a half decade, with the organization trying to see, through the haze of a lost season, who is a part of their future and who is not. Though it feels like the Lakers have been embroiled in it for nearly two months already, the time for final decision-making--especially seeing how most players on the roster are on expiring contracts--is fast approaching.
Looking at the roster right now, which Laker (or Lakers) do you think is (are) most likely to go?
Most of the team honestly should be traded by the deadline, partly because the team likely will not be looking to re-sign them in free agency and also to help facilitate a path towards a high pick, but the one player who will almost certainly be gone in February is Chris Kaman. The most quizzical signing of the offseason because the team was already stocked at the five, it has become increasingly clear that he was brought in either as insurance for a Pau Gasol trade or to merely be trade bait himself. Buried in a rotation that already has three centers that see playing time and now a full-time starting power forward that fits Mike D'Antoni's system in Ryan Kelly, there is little reason for Kaman to remain on a team whose objective should be to secure as high of a pick as possible, develop their younger players, and get as many assets as humanely possible as they prepare to rebuild the roster in the draft and free agency. The real death knell to Kaman's future with the team came when Robert Sacre proved himself as a legitimate backup five, as the fact that the former is signed through 2016 and a young prospect to develop makes it an easy call for the Lakers front office.
And on the trade front, there's a lot about Kaman that should be attractive to other teams: he is a quality veteran player who probably could be plugged into nearly any rotation in the league without a hitch and his small expiring contract makes his acquisition a low risk investment. The bigger question is whether the Lakers should bundle Kaman with other possible trade options to increase the possible return. Jodie Meeks (bigger offers coming in free agency than the Lakers would be willing to match), Jordan Hill (same), Steve Blake (old and would be returning to a crowded point guard rotation), and Pau Gasol (too expensive to keep, his departure would more or less make a high pick a certainty) should also all be on the block, and while pairing him with Pau is a bit nonsensical, as they play the same position and it is already hard enough to find a trade partner with the necessary matching salaries for Pau, the other three are also solid rotation pieces that could be easily combined into one trade.
It is hard here to prognosticate what exact return the Lakers could want for Kaman, alone or with company, but a second rounder would probably be sufficient, given that Mitch Kupchak appears to be on a recent roll with late picks bringing in Kelly and Sacre. The Lakers currently don't have a second rounder this upcoming draft because of the Steve Nash deal and given how precious cap space is in the next few seasons, grabbing cheap contributors with upside is always a positive move. Yours truly has liked to float the idea of dealing Kaman to center-starved New Orleans in exchange for Pierre Jackson's rights, as Jackson is currently blocked from being called up from the D-League by any team not the Pelicans despite killing it down there and his parent team has a very crowded backcourt rotation. But really, as noted above, Kaman would have legitimate utility to a lot of teams and due to his contract, he could probably be traded to half the league. Regardless of where you want the Lakers to go this year, Kaman is the definition of superfluous and in the NBA, those kinds of assets should be offloaded for something that would actually be useful to the team in the future.
At this point in the season, the Lakers need to have an open mind on trading just about everyone on the roster. If the Lakers really are interested in tanking and rebuilding, then they need assets, and making some trades is the best way to do that. The three main guys the Lakers will look to trade are Steve Blake, Pau Gasol, and Chris Kaman. We have already seen them actively try and trade Gasol -- for the third season in a row -- so his name will definitely be in more rumors over the next month, especially because he has the most value. Although he didn't play well for the first couple months, Gasol has certainly picked up his level of play. While doing so, his trade value has continued to go up.
As for Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, the Lakers probably won't get back more than a low second round pick. The Wizards, Grizzlies, Suns, and Bobcats (sans Kemba Walker) could all be suitors. All four teams are competing for playoff spots, and none have very good backup guards. Kaman, on the other hand, can't even find playing time right now. His minutes have been taken by Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, and Jordan Hill. Nonetheless, he could be used by a lot of teams. Of the possible playoff teams, Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, and Minnesota could find use out of the big man. The Pelicans could definitely use him, but they may be trying to tank with all of their injuries.
Of course, those aren't the only guys who could be traded. Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, and Nick Young could all be on the move for the right price. It'd be nice to keep a couple of those guys, but they all might try to get more money this off-season. The only "safe" players are probably Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash -- why would anyone want him? -- Jordan Farmar because the Lakers will most likely try and re-sign him at the end of the season, and then the young guys on good deals: Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall and Robert Sacre.
It'll be really interesting to see what the Lakers do at the deadline. Whether they say they're tanking or not, bringing in assets is the best way to go.
The Great Mambino
The Lakers have several affordable trade assets on hand right now and luckily for them, the ability to showcase all of their talents. The biggest problem with the team is that they're a bunch of one dimensional role players that are all moonlighting as starters with starter-caliber minutes--however, in this particular situation, it's great news for LA.
As the trade deadline comes and goes, I foresee several players being very eligible to go, to the point where I'd be surprised if they weren't dealt. Among these men are Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill and especially Chris Kaman. The Kaveman is the most obvious trade asset the Lakers have, especially considering the relative size of his salary ($3 million), his still potent offensive skill set and the fact that he's mysteriously found himself completely out of Mike D'Antoni's injury riddled rotation. It's a complete no-brainer for Mitch Kupchak and Jimmy Buss to deal him, as he could still be a great help to any team looking for a big man to score on reserve minutes.
Hill and Meeks too are very tradeable role players, both because of their relatively low salaries ($3.5 million and $1.5 million, respectively) and also because their skill sets would allow them to seamlessly transition into other rotations as role players. On expiring deals that the Lakers aren't certain to extend after the season, I don't see why the organization wouldn't jettison them given the proper motivation.
In terms of who I don't see going anywhere, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar simply won't have enough time to heal up before the trade deadline to increase their value. They're both scheduled to return shortly before February 20th, which won't give the Lakers much of a return, if any. If they were healthy, I'd be very intrigued to see what type of assets they'd bring--then again, I'd also be interested in just how good the team would be at this point.
I've written this time and time again--I do not see Pau Gasol going anywhere, if for no other reason than I don't see many potential destinations for him. His salary, age and status as a rental player don't suggest to me that any team looks like a match with the Lakers.
Predicting anything with this season has become a crap shoot (sounds familiar), but I'm increasingly beginning to believe that the team will not trade Pau Gasol. The front office has made it clear they will not trade him in a straight salary dump (see: Cleveland) and there are only a handful of teams that will be interested in a one-year rental of Gasol. Sure, he's been playing well, but matching up salaries and assets for the Lakers to be interested in seems like mission impossible. It'll take the right deal to get Pau off the Lakers' hands, especially with how well he's playing lately. The front office has repeatedly said they are looking to compete this season and are not tanking. Keeping this version of Pau will keep the team "competitive," so to speak.
There are three players the team should be looking to move, however: Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks. Hill's been inconsistent in both his play and role in the team's rotations, but he's proven to be one of the NBA's best rebounders when he's grooving. Teams are going to be interested in signing him on a low-tier contract, but that may still be out of the team's range. Shipping him out on an expiring $3.5 million instead of watching him fall out of reach at $6 million per would be in the team's best interest. He can help the right team right now.
Meeks has been a great story this season. He's improved his play across the board and looks like the on-paper player the team signed last summer. He's averaging career-highs in points (14.7), three-point percentage (39%) and field goal percentage (44%) and looks like an off the bench presence now. The team won't be able to flip him for a significant piece, but he's an attractive asset that will likely be out of the Lakers' salary range this summer.
Last, but not least, is Steve Blake. His elbow injury was a key moment in this season plummeting from "this is enjoyable to watch" to "this is unbearable to watch." He was having quite a year, though, jumping from 3.8 assists per game last season to 7.7 prior to the injury. He's also another player the team seems unlikely to bring back. These three players aren't going to give the Lakers the break they need to build onward and upward, but with a little creativity from Mitch, could help turn around some type of small asset.
Nothing sexy, but you never know. Rumors are sure to heat up as Pau Gasol tries to walk through the trade block one more time and with his excellent play on offense lately, a team might be ready to roll the dice on him.
First and foremost, given the stance the Lakers management has taken on "tanking", I don't expect the team to make more than one move. Trading away two or more of the roster's most productive players, whether it be Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, or Jodie Meeks, to name a few, would appear as a clear sign of defeat, regardless of potential long-term benefits.
With that said, the two players I envision being shopped around the most are Gasol and Meeks. Most teams aren't going to package a first round draft pick in exchange for Gasol; without one in the deal, it doesn't make sense for the Lakers to pull the trigger unless they get some sort of unique talent back, which seems just as unlikely. Gasol's hefty contract comes off the books this summer, making cap flexibility enough of an asset to keep the guy around unless a miracle of an offer surfaces.
While I don't think the Lakers front office necessarily wants to trade Meeks, mostly because of his low price tag and solid production this year, but that same logic is why playoff-hopeful teams may give up a second-round pick for him. He's close to 15 points per game at nearly 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc--there are going to be teams that want him. His play thus far warrants him much more than $1.45 million; whether or not the Lakers want to keep him is beside the point because they won't be able to afford him.
There's no doubt the Lakers front office will listen to offers for more than half the players on this team--there's some talent worth developing and the price tags are worth any risk. But I don't think more than one (or two at the most) of this Lakers' current roster will be moved, in hesitation that the trades--which many will credit to "tanking"--will make the franchise appear desperate.