After starting the season 10-10 the Los Angeles Lakers have gone on a cold streak, winning just two of their last 17 games. Much of the LA’s offensive success this year has been due to the resurgence of Nick Young and the stellar bench play of Lou Williams, but the long-term fit of both players is a burning question heading into trade season. Both players likely won’t have a higher value than they do now, but is it worth trading both of them this season?
The case against trading Williams is strong. He’s been the best player for the Lakers this season with a team-leading PER of 23. Williams has propelled the Lakers bench to the top of the NBA, averaging 18.3 points and 3.2 assists per game. He’s in the running for Sixth Man of the Year and contending teams will be calling about him. However, is it worth trading the team’s best performing player on a bargain contract (Williams is making just $7 million per season) that isn’t going to expire this summer?
At 31, Williams still has some strong years ahead of him. The Lakers need veteran leaders and Williams is the ultimate bargain for that role. He still has one more year left on that phenomenal value deal and the Lakers could absolutely use his skillset for at least another season. At worst, he’s a strong bench presence for another year. At best, he’s the Sixth Man of the Year and leading the best bench unit in the NBA. The Lakers had hoped Luol Deng would be a more impactful presence than he is and that makes Williams even more important as a leader. The young Lakers still have room to grow and Williams keeps them afloat offensively as they develop in Walton’s system.
If he were to be traded the Lakers would experience in significant drop-off on the second unit, where they currently hold an advantage over just about every team in the league. That would put additional pressure on the starters and Jordan Clarkson, who is experiencing some growing pains in his bench role. Williams is consistently the driving force offensively for the Lakers that keeps the team afloat. Trading a steady leader at a bargain price would be a bad move at this stage of the season.
Young is a more interesting case. He’s making about $5.5 million this season and has a player option for next year, but he will almost certainly opt out. The Lakers need to know where Young’s head is at (no guarantees) and determine if he wants to come back to LA on a team-friendly deal. Young is arguably having his best season, shooting 42 percent from deep and a career-best 17.3 PER. He’s producing a team-best 127 points per 100 possessions, a far cry from the 98 he posted last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Young’s career was going down the drain heading into this past offseason and whispers around the team indicated he could be cut from the Lakers’ 15-man roster before the season started. Now, he’s been a consistent offensive threat and is actually trying on defense. Whatever head coach Luke Walton said to Young before the season clearly worked, and the Lakers might be the best situation for Young to continue his stellar play. If he is willing to stay with the Lakers on another team-friendly deal, trading him now would be a waste of Walton’s tremendous effort turning his play around.
If Young were to be moved, the returns won’t be nearly what they would for Williams. Young’s off-the-court history and previous down seasons will drop his value in any trade. He’s clearly motivated this season and is the Lakers’ most consistent starter. Young’s departure would add unnecessary pressure on either Clarkson or Brandon Ingram to step up offensively, and the Lakers as a whole, to make additional strides defensively.
Los Angeles isn’t a championship-caliber unit yet, but Williams and Young fit well into the current fabric of the team. Their long-term viability will always be in question, but both have thrived under Walton and have taken pressure off the younger players. Trading them now would not only take away a healthy chunk of the team’s offense (Williams and Young account for about 32 percent of LA’s scoring), but would put even more playmaking and scoring responsibilities on the younger players. LA is 19th in points per 100 possessions, but dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. Trading two of LA’s best scorers would only increase that discrepancy.
The young Lakers have a long ways to go. Pulling two key cogs out of the rotation now to add pieces with potential would only extend the rebuild. Even with their recent slump, the Lakers are still only four games out of the final playoff spot. The expectations at the beginning of the year didn’t scream playoffs, but these things change and grow. When healthy, LA has proven it can play at least .500 basketball and compete every night, no matter the opponent. The eighth playoff seed is very much in play, even after collapsing in December. Wins and development don’t always go together, but the Lakers an in a unique position due to Williams and Young. Trading them now would essentially pull the plug on any chance at the postseason, which would ultimately be the best experience for the young Lakers to grow.