During the offseason, the one major plaudit the Los Angeles Lakers front office deserved was that they didn’t sacrifice any youth or future draft picks. At the trade deadline, however, that philosophy was sacrificed, as desperation led to two trades that were clearly win-now moves for an ultimately failed playoff push.
A month removed from those deals, it’s clear that the Mike Muscala/Ivica Zubac (and Michael Beasley) swap should never be discussed again out of respect for the personal well-being of all Lakers fans. Nevertheless, the trade of Svi Mykhailiuk and a second-round pick for Reggie Bullock was a good one at the time, and it’s worth considering how that move will look going forward, given that the team’s outlook and priorities have changed in the intervening weeks.
Los Angeles obviously hasn’t performed up to expectations over the last month, but it’s hard to blame the former Piston. Since he was acquired, Bullock has the fourth-best net rating (minus-4.0) among Lakers rotation players, behind Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and LeBron James. The team is 7.6 points better per 100 possessions when Bullock is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.
It’s not hard to see why Los Angeles is a better team when Bullock takes the court: He essentially only makes good decisions. The sixth-year wing has taken 62 percent of his shots as a Laker from 3-point range, and he’s made 35 percent of them. He’s not trying to create on his own often via pull-ups or step-backs, either, as 94 percent of his 3-point attempts have been assisted.
When he isn’t shooting from deep, Bullock has converted 70 percent of his shots at the rim. As is standard practice for any player who puts on a purple and gold uniform, he is only shooting 67 percent from the free-throw line, but he doesn’t foul, he doesn’t turn the ball over and he accepts low usage on a team with a lot of ball handlers.
Defensively, Bullock is also an asset with his 6-foot-9 wingspan, allowing him to stay at home on shooters while also preventing drives to the basket. Although he won’t be confused with an All-Star, there is no denying that Bullock fits in remarkably well with what the Lakers are trying to do; he is essentially the only 3-and-D player the team has managed to surround James with. If Los Angeles were still attempting to make the postseason, Bullock would be a no-brainer addition to any starting or closing lineup the Lakers trotted out.
With the playoffs almost out of reach, though, the rest of the season should be geared towards figuring out what this team has moving forward, as L.A. assuredly cannot waste another year. Not only is the clock ticking on James, but the Lakers’ young core is about to get expensive as well. For better or worse, this team already knows who Bullock is. That might mean that Luke Walton doesn’t see fit to give him extended minutes, because Bullock isn’t an unknown quantity like some of the younger players deep on the Lakers bench.
That then presents the question of how Los Angeles should deal with Bullock this offseason. The front office surrendered two second-round picks to acquire him, and even if the purpose of acquiring Bullock hasn’t been achieved, those picks shouldn’t just become a sunk cost. He is a legitimate asset, and should be treated as such.
The Lakers obviously want to use their cap space to sign a maximum free agent this summer. They currently have $65.8 million of the $109 million salary cap committed to seven players and the stretched salary of Luol Deng. They own their own first-round pick, who would have a contract in the range of $3.4 million, and they’ll need to retain $32.7 million in space for a max free agent in the 7-9 years experience range, which includes Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler. Including four minimum roster charges, which are each $897,158, Los Angeles could retain Bullock’s cap hold, which will be $3 million, or 120 percent of his current salary.
That means the Lakers could then go over the cap to re-sign Bullock after the rest of their free agency transactions have completed, provided they value him enough to keep his cap hold on the books while they chase their big fish. That hasn’t always been the case in the past with this front office. Part of the rationale of surrendering Zubac was that Los Angeles didn’t think they could keep the young center on his next contract, and Zubac’s cap hold would have been even lower than Bullock’s.
The Lakers likely traded for Bullock just for these two months, but circumstances change, and now the real benefits of having Bullock could be recouped in the coming seasons. Whether the team recognizes Bullock’s value is an open question, but he has proven his worth. It’s now up to management to capitalize on their latest asset.