Although the Lakers’ fans (and brass) may prefer an acquisition that lands them a legitimate third star, like Bradley Beal (or, preposterously, Kevin Durant), the current iteration of the squad is so far off from true contention and without the right to retain their own first round draft choice in 2024 that they probably ought to improve the roster on the edges, regardless of whether they are able to make a transaction that really raises the team’s ceiling. With the advent of the play-in tournament, more teams than ever have convinced themselves of a chance at a run at
a championship some sweet, sweet playoff revenue.
Thanks to the growing number of teams remaining in the hunt for longer into the season, necessarily fewer teams are willing to pull the plug on their season early and deal the players that can help them win games in the present. However, a few of the NBA’s finest tankers may want to sell their scraps for a bargain to anyone willing to offer one.
One of the league’s most mediocre franchises angling towards a long-term rebuild is the Orlando Magic. In Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, Orlando has a future superstar and at least a high-quality starter in the bag. If they get lucky in this year’s lottery, which they are in a good position to do, they may finally end up with a core group strong enough to lead them towards contention in the middle-to-late part of the decade. Those chances are buoyed if Bol Bol becomes a legitimate piece and they can turn any of Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr., and Jonathan Isaac (if he still exists), or even Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz into somethings worth hanging onto. For now though, a handful of known quantities have been cast aside while the Magic turn the Amway Center into the Flier Festival until the club can believably claim the rotation of a real contender.
Although the desperate Lakers have little of significance to offer outside of their coveted future firsts, they do have at least six more second round selections due before the end of the decade that they could package with outgoing salary in order to sweeten a minor swap.
Entering discussions, the Lakers’ own ham-fisted attempts at team-building have turned them into beggars, not choosers, but in order to win big, they will have to win on the margins by turning other teams’ trash into their own treasure. And given the Magic’s organizational modus operandi of losing now to win later, the Lakers could make a play for a number of players towards the back end of Orlando’s rotation — i.e. not-quite-trash the Lakers could convince themselves they can transform into not-quite-treasure.
If the Lakers get a deal done with the Magic this trade season, it would not be the first time in recent memory. Not only have they been linked to making a marginal move with Orlando in each of the past few trade seasons, the Lakers sent cash and their 2028 second rounder to the Magic for the right to draft Max Christie this past July — a repeat performance of the move they made to land Talen Horton-Tucker back in 2019. In fact, the players probably on the block are all those the Lakers have flirted with acquiring a number of times.
For the third-straight year now, the Lakers have been linked to the lanky shooter from Portland, Oregon. Of the potential trade targets on the Magic, Ross is probably the most known quantity of them all. At 31, he is the only player on their roster older than 30, and after 11 seasons in the league, Ross can hack it in the NBA, but he probably won’t move the needle very much for your team.
Due to his poor perimeter defense, he might not be able to stay on the floor come playoff-time. To compare him to another oft-rumored Lakers trade target, he’s a less athletic, lower-ceiling Cam Reddish without the trigger-happy delusions of grandeur.
The last time around, the Magic reportedly wanted at least a first-round pick to part with the sort-of-swingman, but now, they’ll be lucky to get anything substantive in return. He’s on an expiring deal and might not have much of a market beyond the veteran’s minimum in the offseason. If the Lakers offered matching salary and a lone second rounder, the Magic would be wise to jump at the opportunity to finally cash out.
However, there are real obstacles to getting a deal done here. For starters, to match Ross’s $11.5 million salary, the Lakers would need to either send out Patrick Beverley, or Kendrick Nunn and two more veteran’s minimum-earning players. Since the best version of Beverley is certainly better than Ross, and the Lakers just traded away a pair of players to get him, they are not terribly likely to consider his slow start a sunk cost, especially with his three highest-scoring games coming in the team’s last three contests. The other, perhaps more significant obstacle is that Ross is represented by Aaron Mintz of CAA. Mintz, one of the NBA’s premier agents, has a historically tumultuous relationship with the Lakers by way of his clientele, and may even harbor bad blood towards Rob Pelinka like the rest of the league apparently does.
Despite the perennial rumblings, don’t expect the Lakers to consummate this relationship with an in-season transaction.
A first-round pick once penciled-in as Denver’s shooting guard of the future, Harris has struggled to put it all together in the NBA. Despite flashes of elite on-ball defense at his athletic peak, his post-injury struggles scoring with any kind of consistency sent him packing as one of the primary pieces exchanged for Aaron Gordon.
This past offseason, the Magic re-upped with Harris on a $26 million deal that will keep him under contract until the end of next season. And with the Magic’s youth movement happening all around Harris, along with knee and hamstring issues to start the season, he’s been limited to just six total games played this year.
Don’t feel too sorry for him — he’s made almost nine figures in his professional career, and is still a solid rotation player. Categorically, he’s similar to Ross in a lot of ways — age, size, position, and salary — but he’s a tier above Ross as both an athlete and a defender, and out-shooting him on threes since the start of last season (38.8% to 31.2%).
Harris is truly a guard, a position at which the Lakers could stand to upgrade, but not as desperately as they need help at the wings and in the front court. Also, his mid-sized deal makes it hard for the Lakers to acquire him without sending out Patrick Beverley, who probably doesn’t exactly pique the Magic’s interest with his recent play or antics. And by the way, he’s an Aaron Mintz client too.
A Beverley-Harris swap might make the Lakers marginally better — Harris is bigger and a better shooter — but not enough to merit a future first without heavy protections or anything more than a couple of seconds, so a trade for him might not be practical or wise considering the state of their roster as a whole. And even then, the Lakers are probably better off saving their picks for the home run swing that gets them back into contention, not this.
Cast away from the team that drafted him in that aforementioned Aaron Gordon trade, R.J. Hampton could be destined for a stint on another island of misfit toys.
He’s exactly the kind of player the Lakers would probably like to take a waiver on, given that he has been of legal drinking age for less than a year (making him younger than Talen Horton-Tucker), and was a former five-star recruit and first-round pick with all of the trappings of potential and promise that entails. He’s long and springy with the ability to accelerate into space, he’s grown into becoming a passable perimeter defender, and is scoring more efficiently than he did in his first two seasons (57% true shooting compared to 50% for his career). If he can sustain the efficiency, Hampton has a good chance of sticking in the league.
Also, he’s on the final year of his rookie-scale contract after the Magic declined the fourth and final year of his deal, so any team looking to acquire him would likely want to do so with the opportunity to re-sign and develop him in mind.
The CBA prohibits the team holding Hampton’s contract after it has been declined from paying him anything other than the $4.22 million he would have earned, while any other team can offer him any other contract as an unrestricted free agent. Further, he’s yet another guard, so it’s not like the Lakers are starving for his services this season. Therefore, if the Lakers were in fact interested in Hampton as a lower-cost, longer-term development play, it would be unwise to trade for him now, since doing so would only hamper their ability to retain him.
However, if the Lakers would like an immediate upgrade to their bench and Orlando is willing to appease Hampton and send him elsewhere, having recently granted his wish to play in the G League for more developmental reps, Hampton can probably provide a spark that Kendrick Nunn hasn’t. Since Nunn makes more than Hampton, the Lakers would only be able to swing a deal if the Magic were willing to include one of their own minimum salaries, like Moe Wagner or Devin Cannady.
However, both are probably better than Nunn at this point, and who knows if the Magic are married to keeping Moe with his brother, so they wouldn’t likely be willing to make this move without some future draft consideration, and then the Lakers are spending assets on more guards. Oh, I almost forgot — he’s represented by CAA, and his agent is Aaron Mintz.
A deal for Hampton seems unlikely, but it’s an avenue worth exploring nonetheless.
As the only player on this list who is not a guard, is not represented by Aaron Mintz, and has his own song, Mo Bamba is probably the most desirable player among the Magic’s most expunge-able assets.
Although Bamba is making about as much as Ross and Harris, his $10 million deal is non-guaranteed next season, giving the Lakers an opportunity to acquire him now and decide what to do with him later, in case they want to open their books to the greatest extent possible for some incoming free agent (who may or may not believe that the earth is round). The Lakers could match Bamba’s salary by taking on another minimum and sending out Beverley, or packaging a couple of minimums with Kendrick Nunn, making a deal as financially plausible as one for Ross or harris.
However, Bamba’s potential basketball fit is far more appealing. Bamba is very limited in what he can do, but what he does do, he does well, and those particular skills are valuable to pretty much any NBA team. Bamba is by no means a playmaker, and should not even be asked to do as much as dribble, but he can shoot threes at about league-average accuracy (37.9% over the last two seasons), and he is one of the league’s better rim-protecting bigs (2.2 blocks per 36 minutes over the last two seasons).
The advanced metrics especially favor Bamba due to his low usage and discretely valuably skills in the modern NBA. He would be a welcome addition to the lineup next to Anthony Davis, since Bamba could hang out on the perimeter as a shooting threat, but arguably more importantly his addition would go a long way towards plugging the enormous hole left by AD’s regular absences.
His acquisition could help raise the Lakers’ floor as much as any other singular low-cost role player, but without vaulting them into contender territory. If the Lakers could acquire Bamba without attaching a future first round pick, it’s a move they should make as soon as yesterday (unless a higher-priority plan for a bigger name — i.e. Myles Turner — addresses their need to improve at center).
Even if none of these players make a ton of sense to trade for individually, there might be some sense to swapping all of them for Russell Westbrook.
All of the money comes off the books this year or next, and the Lakers might make better use of the defensive versatility they’d gain in lieu of the bench playmaking they’d lose. However, Russ makes $10 million more than this quartet combined so it might be difficult to make this a legal swap even if the Magic wanted to expunge their depth to take the ball out of the hands of their best players (sound familiar?).
If the Lakers’ Plan A is Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, and Plan B is Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, then any deal with the Magic is at least Plan C, and maybe more realistically, plan D, E, or F. However, the Lakers need to find ways to improve, and the Magic’s status as sellers and historical relationship with the Lakers could make a trade between the two clubs happen.