We already knew that the Lakers have been “poking around” the buyout market and may pursue DeMarcus Cousins when he gets bought out by the Houston Rockets, but he apparently isn’t the only player from that team they’re interested in.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN during a pregame appearance on NBA Countdown, the Lakers also are looking hard at P.J. Tucker:
“The Lakers have been active. I know they’ve made calls about some wing players to see if there is some shooting available out there. Another player they’re interested in: P.J. Tucker, from the Houston Rockets. There’s a lot of interest among contenders in Tucker, who’s in the last year of his deal. The Miami Heat, who the Lakers play tonight, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, several others. One thing I’m told is that Houston wants back not picks, but a player that they can plug back into their lineup.”
That stance from the Rockets make sense given that they just got a bunch of picks back in their deal for James Harden and could still flip Victor Oladipo for more. And at 11-17, Houston is just two games out of the 10th seed (and a playoff play-in game) in the Western Conference. They probably want to at least chase that opportunity if they can, with little incentive to just tank.
So what could a deal look like from the Lakers’ perspective? Well, for one thing, Tucker has one-year and $7.9 million remaining on his current contract, and was upset with the Rockets not giving him an extension at 35 years old. So if the Lakers really want him, they may have to factor in paying him at some point if they want him to fully buy in.
The price to deal for Tucker will also be a factor, as they’d likely have to part with the recently extended Kyle Kuzma, as from where Houston sits, there aren’t a ton of other players on the roster that make a ton of sense as assets. Talen Horton-Tucker would also theoretically fall into that category as a young player who could get minutes now and have upside down the road, but his contract makes it tough to construct a deal that doesn’t see the Lakers shipping out multiple rotation players or doing some type of 4-for-1 swap to make the deal work, salary-wise, neither of which seems like a super realistic option. The Rockets were also previously interested in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but that was two years ago under different management, so who knows if that’s still the case. It’s also similarly hard to make a del work with his $12 million salary that doesn’t turn into a bigger trade featuring multiple pieces.
So in case it wasn’t obvious from the paragraph above, I have no idea if the Lakers would be willing to part with any of those players, or who they would be willing to give up, but if they do really want Tucker, here is what one theoretical deal featuring Kuzma could look like, with help from ESPN’s trade machine:
Would the Lakers be willing to deal Kuzma — a player we know they like — so soon after extending him? How much do they think Tucker could aid their defensive versatility and increase their chances to repeat? We don’t know, but it’s worth noting that for as many improvements as Kuzma has made as a defender, Tucker is still better by the numbers. Per stats provided by InStat, Tucker ranks in the 100th percentile of the NBA as an isolation defender, in the 98th percentile at defending drives and additionally ranks highly in:
- Help Defense: 95th percentile
- Pick and Roll Defense: 96th percentile
- Post-up Defense: 92nd percentile
- Generating Steals: 92nd percentile
- Defending Off Screens: 83rd percentile
Kuzma certainly has more future upside than Tucker, but it is entirely possible that Tucker gives the Lakers a better chance to win this year, especially given that they’re two biggest obstacles to a repeat (besides health) are the wing-heavy LA Clippers and Brooklyn Nets. Does Tucker give them a better chance to beat those teams than Kuzma does? It’s one more thing they’ll have to decided on the answer to as the March 25 trade deadline rapidly approaches.
Unless they can get Tucker for less, that is. If that happens, we can just say words that have become more and more common over the last year: Great job, Rob Pelinka.