In the last few days, both ESPN and The Athletic have reported that rival NBA teams are trying to see if they can pry Talen Horton-Tucker from the Lakers before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline (or are at least watching him and waiting for his restricted free agency this summer). There have also been whispers and hints among some insiders that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might be available just months after re-signing with the Lakers on a three-year deal and amidst a disappointing season.
But on Tuesday, we got our most definitive reporting on either topic from Brian Windhorst of ESPN, who dropped a few notable details about the Lakers’ mindset as the deadline approaches during an appearance on “The Jump” (emphasis mine):
“The Lakers have been working the phone since the LeBron injury looking for wing players. The problem is that they don’t really have a whole heck of a lot to offer. They have discussed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in trade scenarios, but from what I am told they are not willing to include a draft pick, or their best young player, which is Talen Horton-Tucker, and without those two things to grease, I don’t know if they’re going to get the kind of wing that could make a difference.”
“Their big upgrade could end up being Andre Drummond. If he is not traded by the Cavs by Thursday, the expectation is that he will get bought out and could sign with the Lakers and become their starting center. So that might be their move, in the buyout market if they can’t find something in the wing market.”
But let’s get back to the Caldwell-Pope part of this. Windhorst is the first that I’m aware of to definitively report that the Lakers are willing to move Caldwell-Pope, and while that’s not terribly surprising, logically, it’s also a notable confirmation. While Caldwell-Pope’s $12 million salary — and two years remaining at $13 and $14 million — likely isn’t an asset in and of itself, it is significant ballast to balance out a trade financially. However, with news that the Lakers aren’t willing to part with Horton-Tucker right now, it remains to be seen what or who he’d even be included with to recoup anyone of value.
Horton-Tucker being untouchable — or something close to it — right now is also not a shock. As Windy noted, he’s the most promising young player the Lakers have, and in addition to likely being their best trade piece, he’s also one of the few upside plays they have on their aging roster. While they could move him for more immediate help — especially if packaging him with Caldwell-Pope — it’s not a necessity, no matter how much this team is struggling without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
And while we’ll have to wait and see how desperate the Lakers are for help as the trade deadline approaches on Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PT, there are a two main takeaways that we can have about their mindset as the hours tick down:
- Being a Klutch Klient doesn’t make you untouchable: THT may not be getting thrown in trade talks, but we’ve now heard that Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell are available on some level. Their salaries together get the Lakers to approximately $21 million in outgoing money. That’s enough to get them a real player, although the hard cap and roster minimums loom as concerns. However...
- The Lakers aren’t desperate to make a move: From (so far) not being willing to include Horton-Tucker or their first-rounder, to leaking repeatedly that they’re more likely to plug holes in the buyout market, it’s pretty clear that the Lakers at the very least want opposing teams to believe that they are willing to let the trade deadline pass without a deal. How much of that is posturing vs. how much is their actual stance is unknowable, but given how many different insiders seem to be reading things that way, it’s clear that it’s the message the Lakers are sending to other teams, not just the media.
What does all that mean when you put it all together? That the Lakers could make a big move and will surely sniff around, but it’s not a certainty. Still, Caldwell-Pope and Harrell both being available does mean this team is more willing to shake things up than was previously thought, so while pre-deadline fireworks aren’t a certainty, they are at least possible.
So stay tuned. It could be a crazy few days in Laker Land.