The 2018-19 Lakers season has been as tumultuous as advertised for year one of a LeBron James-led team. There has been endless internal and external drama, much of which will hopefully reach a conclusion tomorrow at 12 p.m. PST: the NBA Trade Deadline.
Before then, it’s worth considering some of the biggest questions still in play for Los Angeles as the team heads into one of the most decisive days of the season.
Will the Lakers trade for Anthony Davis?
Who is on the block for the Lakers?
When it comes to acquiring Anthony Davis, it seems that every Laker not named LeBron James is there for the taking. However, if we’re only considering non-superstar trades, the name that comes up most often is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. At $12 million, KCP’s contract is trade-friendly, and the sixth-year guard was linked in trade rumors as early as legally possible this season, back on Dec. 15 when the Lakers were pursuing then-Phoenix Suns forward Trevor Ariza.
KCP’s camp (his agent is Rich Paul) has agitated for a more prominent role outside Los Angeles throughout the season, and it’s not unreasonable for Caldwell-Pope to want more after starting at shooting guard almost the entirety of last year. His minutes have gone down from 33 per game in 2017-18 to 24 this year, playing time that stands to get squeezed even further with the arrival of Reggie Bullock, a 6-foot-7 wing who has shot better than KCP this season. The most recent destination proposed for KCP has been Chicago, as part of a Jabari Parker acquisition, but it’s hard to see how that benefits the upcoming free agent.
The other Laker veterans don’t possess much trade value, given that they’re all on one-year deals and are on the back end of their careers. The rookies haven’t been given enough minutes this year to generate any value (although that didn’t prevent the Pistons from taking a flyer of Svi Mykhailiuk), and the Lakers would prefer to retain all of its high-profile young players in the event of a potential deal for Davis.
So with all that noted, outside of a blockbuster move, expect KCP to be the most likely player changing uniforms at the deadline.
Who are the Lakers targeting?
Again, Anthony Davis. Other than that, the Lakers need shooting. Los Angeles took the first step towards addressing that need by trading for Bullock, who currently is shooting 38.4 percent from beyond the arc, including 45 percent from the corners.
Bill Oram of The Athletic indicated that the Lakers would be interested in any three-point specialist on an expiring contract, a list including the aforementioned Ariza, Terrence Ross, Garrett Temple, and Wayne Ellington. Ariza seems unlikely to be moved since the Wizards are in the middle of a (misguided?) playoff push. Orlando also has playoff aspirations, which makes Ross’ availability unclear.
Temple is far more attainable, especially as Memphis pursues a fire sale of its best assets. However, Temple hasn’t been very good this season, and is currently nursing a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Ellington would be a magnificent fit. He shoots threes at a high volume (10.5 per 36 minutes) and is a career 38 percent shooter from distance. He has also been mostly out of the rotation in Miami and probably could be had for some light draft assets if the Heat consent to moving him, though L.A. is now out its 2019 and 2021 second-round picks.
Do the Lakers have any other needs to address?
Despite attempts to shore up the team’s playmaking, the Lakers once again find themselves down a point guard and relying on Lance Stephenson for substantial minutes as a backup floor general running the offense. His net rating is -3.7 for the season, meaning Los Angeles could do better. Jeremy Lin would be a nice reserve point guard, or potentially Raymond Felton if the Lakers get really desperate.
Are the Lakers pursuing any other big names?
The Lakers were thought to be interested in Bradley Beal earlier in the season, but balked at Washington’s high asking price (sounds familiar). Nikola Vucevic, an All-Star in the Eastern Conference, could maybe be had for a first-round pick and Caldwell-Pope, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe has posited. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol don’t appear to be on the radar for Los Angeles, despite the Grizzlies’ willingness to part with both.
What should the Lakers do?
Any major move the Lakers make will compromise the team’s ability to make a competitive offer for Davis when (or if) the Pelicans decide to move on from their superstar. If Los Angeles wanted to call New Orleans’ bluff, they could take on bad salary that expires next year (acquiring assets in the process), remove themselves from the running for this year’s free agents, and clear the cap for the 2020 offseason to sign Davis. It’s probably unreasonable to think the franchise would be willing to waste another year of LeBron’s prime, but it’s a gambit the Lakers could theoretically pursue.
It’s clear that the chatter surrounding the trade deadline has taken its toll on the Lakers, whether in the form of a locker room dust-up, or simply no-showing a game against a team that was on the second night of a back-to-back on Monday. Something will probably have to happen just to jolt some life into the Lakers, and it remains to be seen if trading for Bullock will be sufficient in that department.
Either way, LeBron James has made it clear that he’s not patient. Giving up on Mykhailiuk, who the Lakers absolutely adored in the pre-draft process, confirms that the front office isn’t going to be patient. Los Angeles has tried to make a big splash, and even if that fails, expect some smaller ripples over the next 24 hours.