We already knew that the Lakers were interested in a trade for Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, but after the disgruntled veteran sat out of Houston’s 14th loss in a row on Thursday night, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN dropped the bomb: The Lakers have officially had discussions with the Rockets about Tucker.
According to Wojnarowski, they aren’t the only team to have done so:
So far, the Rockets’ preference for a young, productive rotation player in trade talks has been a sticking point with teams, which haven’t been willing to part with that kind of an asset for a 35-year-old on an expiring contract, sources said.
Unlike Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge that have a $20M+ contract that is difficult to move, Tucker is on a manageable $7.9M contract. https://t.co/XsEPC4ooRW— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 12, 2021
As we previously covered, the Lakers have young, productive rotation players like Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker, but not the salary ballast to make a deal involving them work very easily midseason. However, if the Rockets are willing to be flexible on how “young” the productive rotation player is, the Lakers may have something that could work (via ESPN’s trade machine):
At 27, Harrell is a more productive player than the 35 year old Tucker. That much is not really a debate. What is a debate is if the Lakers would be better served in dealing him for a player who might lower their regular season floor but raise their playoff ceiling.
For weeks we’ve been hearing about how the Lakers are interested in basically every center that might even theoretically become available in a buyout. The problem with those rumors is it’s unlikely that any of those guys are good enough to play over Marc Gasol or Harrell, and certainly not a better option than Davis at the five, where he was most productive during the playoffs and will certainly play more when the postseason rolls around.
With Tucker, the Lakers would get a super-charged version of the type of small-ball four that Markieff Morris served as for them in the bubble last season, getting a stouter defender and better career shooter (Morris has made slightly more this season, but Tucker is better over the course of his career) that would have the potential to make the Lakers’ best lineups even better, and give them the room to sign the more traditionally sized back-up center they clearly desire on the buyout market. For the Rockets, this deal would give them a younger, better player in a vacuum who they could try to re-sign this summer rather than losing Tucker for nothing.
Again, Harrell is the better individual basketball player here, but in the playoffs, his utility may be more limited, his defensive flaws more easily exposed with targeted game-planning by other teams. He’s also a guy who right now seems unlikely to close very many — if any — games for the Lakers. In flipping him for Tucker, they could balance out their roster in the way they seem to want for the postseason while getting a player who might be able to play more high-leverage minutes for them once they’re there, and would certainly have more trust from Frank Vogel defensively than Harrell has been given.
The trade deadline is March 25, and this surely won’t be the last we hear about Tucker. And who knows, if he and the Rockets reach a total impasse, maybe they buy him out and let the Lakers get him for free, and they can have him and Harrell. Or maybe he really is washed, and won’t be better in a winning situation. That’s always possible. But this is the type of gamble that might be worth making, and at the very least, Tucker will be a name to watch over the next two weeks as the Lakers figure out what tweaks they want to make to their roster.