A few days ago, Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that the Lakers were in the market for a mystery guard at the NBA trade deadline. On Tuesday, we may have learned who that guard is: Oklahoma City Thunder point guard George Hill.
Hill is averaging 11.8 points and 3.1 assists while shooting 50.8% from the field and 38.6% from deep this season, and while we can’t know for certain that he is the exact guard that Windhorst said that Lakers were looking at, we do know that Hill is someone they have reached out to the Thunder about, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (emphasis mine):
There hadn’t been much chatter regarding the Oklahoma City Thunder’s veteran point guard, but as the trade deadline inches ever closer, Hill’s name has emerged more and more in conversations among team executives. Both Los Angeles teams and Philadelphia have expressed interest, according to league sources. The Thunder’s asking price appears clear. “They’re willing to [both] take back and trade salary for draft compensation,” one Western Conference official said.
In an amusing quirk, if the Lakers were to acquire Hill, they would be trading for a point guard who has started every game he’s played in for the Thunder this year to come off the bench behind a point guard — Dennis Schröder — who they brought in to start after exclusively coming off the bench and nearly winning Sixth Man of the Year for the Thunder last season.
The lesson? If you want to end up on the Lakers, go play point guard for the Thunder, their new minor league feeder team in Oklahoma City.
In all seriousness, however, the Lakers actually getting a trade done for Hill feels unlikely for a variety of reasons, some of which Fischer outlined in his report:
Neither Los Angeles club has first-round capital to play with, but there’s hope among several teams that OKC will come to a buyout agreement with Hill. Thunder general manager Sam Presti, however, has little history of awarding buyouts to veterans. “That is not OKC’s M.O.,” one assistant general manager said. Maybe that will drive one of these contenders to splurge for Hill before the 3 p.m. ET buzzer.
That last part is key, because it’s a line many reporters have parroted in the last few weeks, so it’s clearly a take the Thunder are trying to get out there as part of their deadline posturing and discourse-shaping attempts to try and get a team to give something up for him instead of waiting and hoping to get Hill for free.
But if Hill isn’t bought out, a trade with the Lakers doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The only matching salary the Lakers have for Hill’s $9.6 million contract in Montrezl Harrell ($9.3 million), and it seems beyond improbable — to the point of being laughable — that they’d flip him straight up for Hill, unless general manager Rob Pelinka is the biggest George Hill stan on the planet.
We can’t rule that last part out entirely, but it’s probably not the case. This whole rumor — and the obstacles to it coming to fruition — also again gets at the larger reason why trades are difficult to construct for the Lakers this year: The players other teams want are either too cheap, too important to the rotation, or both, and the players the Lakers might move don’t make enough money to bring anyone of value back. That’s why buyout moves are more likely than trades, something that has been previously reported.
Pelinka and his cap people are smarter and more creative than me when it comes to this stuff, and it’s still notable that they like Hill, but if they’re going to get him, it feels more likely that they’d need to hope the Thunder reverse course on their own trends and do a buyout with the veteran guard rather than finding a deal that makes sense for both sides.