(Photo: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)
Well, Kobe Bryant sat out another game this past Sunday, his 6th he’s sat out this season and all for the same reason, not because of a debilitating injury that prevents him from taking the floor, but to rest. He is 36 years old after all and coming off 2 major injuries so it is understandable that he would need to rest an aging body. Don’t forget the whole mileage thing, having played 19 seasons, made 7 final appearances and played in 1,498 games including the regular season and playoffs.
Bryant needing time off to rest isn’t the most troubling part at this point of the season, it’s the current state of the Lakers that they can afford to rest their best, most marketable player and it’s acceptable by the masses. It’s accepted because the Lakers are now 12-27 (following their loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday), one spot ahead of last place in the Western Conference and 3 spots from last in the entire 30 team NBA.
For those extremely optimistic that believe there is still a ray of hope for this season keep in mind that the Lakers are 10 games back from the 8th and final playoff spot and would likely need to go 34-9 in their final 43 games in order to win 46 games which is the projected win total of the Phoenix Suns, the team that currently holds the 8th spot in the West.
Going 34-9 equates to a .791 winning percentage which is only bested by 2 teams at this current point of the season: the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks. I don’t believe I’m going out on a limb by saying that the Lakers are not all of sudden going to start clicking on all cylinders and play as well as one of the two top teams the rest of the way.
Realistically, the Lakers aren’t going 34-9 and for all intents and purposes, their season is over. Once the stark reality of the Lakers season being done has set in we can all move forward to thinking about next season and beyond.
What is abundantly clear about the current state of the Lakers is that they are smack in the middle of a rebuilding project and in need of acquiring assets, an area in which their cupboard is nearly bare due to their wheeling and dealing of picks in their desperate attempts to stay on top during the latter part of the Kobe-Pau era.
Most recently, the Lakers gave up 4 draft picks to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade prior to the 2012 season. The Lakers have already forked over 3 of the 4 draft picks prior to this season, leaving only their 2015 protected 1st round pick to complete their debt to the Suns.
The prospects of the Lakers having another season where they miss the playoffs and finish in the lowly 20 win area only to not be compensated with a lottery pick for their troubles is horrifying but that is where the Lakers find themselves if they don’t land one of the top 5 picks in this year’s NBA draft. It’s like having to endure a strict 6 month diet of water, unsalted wheat crisps and Brussels sprouts only to not lose an ounce of weight.
The Lakers were able to acquire a 2015 first round draft pick from the Houston Rockets prior to this season so they do have some insurance to add young talent from this season’s draft but not significant value since it is projected that the pick will end up in the high 20’s.
The area of opportunity to better the Lakers’ situation by acquiring draft picks and young talent with potential is by flipping players on their current roster that have both talent that can help a contending team and are on expiring contracts. These types of players hold the most value and will net the most in return.
A team that has executed the stockpiling of assets by way of trade is the Boston Celtics who have acquired 5 draft picks and former lottery pick Austin Rivers – who they will eventually flip for more assets – in just the last 12 months.
It is that Celtics approach that the Lakers must follow and we’ll take a look at the Lakers current roster to identify which players could be best used to acquire assets before the February 19th trading deadline.
Pool A consists of players on the Lakers roster that can’t or won’t be moved prior to the trading deadline because either their contract explicitly does not allow it or the terms make it unattractive for teams.
Boozer is 33 years old, his career is winding down, but is having a relatively productive season, especially in his new role as a reserve and is on the last year of his deal. Boozer would be an attractive player to a team in need of some veteran leadership and front court scoring but as a condition of the amnesty waiver he cannot be traded this season.
Trading Bryant is off the table for a few reasons, most notably, he has a no trade clause in his contract and while it can waived by Bryant it is unlikely he would do so.
Another obstacle is the massive 48 million that Bryant is owed over the next 2 seasons which would require a team looking to acquire him in trade to match 75 percent of his yearly salary with contracts going back the other way. A team would have to unload a large chunk of their roster to get to that 75 percent and most teams do not have the players to match that amount of money in contracts and still improve their ball club in the process.
Also, Lakers management has made it clear that they have no interest in moving Bryant as they have stated from the outset that their plans are to celebrate him as he retires in a Lakers uniform and receive a farewell tour in his final season à la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Pool B consists of the exact type of players that the Lakers are looking to acquire and should not part with unless it is part of a deal to acquire a star. These players are young, on a cheap, cost controlled contract and their potential still has not been realized. These players can quickly turn in to legit NBA rotation players or possibly even stars making them incredible values. If they don’t pan out, their inexpensive contracts are easily disposed and don’t take up much of the salary cap while they wait to find out.
Randle, the number 7 overall pick in last year’s draft, will not be moved as he is the player with the most potential to become a star and provides the most hope for the Lakers’ future. The Lakers’ haven’t seen enough of him to gauge his level of potential but enough to know he’s worth keeping around to him see him grow.
Of course you can never say never. If the Lakers are offered a superstar player now for Randle, say a Kevin Love, it could be too enticing to pass up, but all signs point to Randle remaining in purple and gold for the foreseeable future.
The Lakers acquired Clarkson with the 46th pick in this year’s draft and it quickly looked like a steal after he shined playing for the Lakers’ summer league team. Clarkson hasn’t had many great moments since that time but is an interesting prospect with his combination of size, quickness and level of aggression on the court which will keep him around.
Kelly signed a two year guaranteed 3.37 million dollar deal in the off-season after a surprising rookie season where he averaged 8 points per game. Still only 23 years old and possessing the skills perfect for a stretch 4 which has gained more importance in the modern day basketball game of the NBA, Kelly is a piece the Lakers will likely not part with anytime soon.
The Lakers picked up Davis towards the latter part of the this past off-season free agent signing period for an inexpensive 2 year, 2 million dollar deal and have reaped good production in return. Davis is only 25 years of age so he is still young enough to be a part of rebuilding project and still possesses some potential to develop into more. This being Davis’ 5th season his ceiling is more clearly defined and probably not higher than a fringe starter but on a minimum deal with good production he holds a ton of value that is worth keeping around.
Black was picked up off waivers after the Rockets let him go earlier this season to make room to sign Josh Smith. Black’s success this season has been impressive considering he went undrafted coming out of Kansas this past NBA draft. In the 4 games he’s played for the Lakers Black is averaging 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 63.2 percent from the field; this is following a solid stint with the Rockets where he started 12 games filling in for an injured Dwight Howard. Black is 23 years old and making the league minimum of $512 K so there is no need to move the young stout rebounding machine at this point.
Pool C consists of players on the Lakers roster that can be traded but would likely not net much in return.
Price is having his best season of his 10 year NBA career, averaging career highs in points, assists, minutes, steals and games started; that being said, he is still just averaging 5.5 points and shooting 36.5 percent from the field. There could be a contending team out there that could use his energy and defensive mindset coming off the bench but unlikely that they would give up anything of great value outside of a trade exception or mediocre player with matching salary.
What he can net in trade? marginal NBA player to match salary, cash and/or trade exception
Sacre is a young player (25) who is also on a cheap deal ($915 K) that has a team option for next season, but where he differs from other young players on the Lakers roster is in the potential department. Sacre has shown in his 3 years in the league that he has good size, great attitude, works hard when on the floor but lacks NBA level skills on either the offensive or defensive end. If a team is simply looking for a serviceable big body for insurance Sacre could get some interest but unlikely he could garner as much as a future 2nd round pick which itself would be optimistic.
What he can net in trade? 2nd round pick
It is in this pool where the Lakers will find the players that will net the most in return in trade. Players in this pool are on inexpensive and/or expiring contracts, productive enough to help a contending team and are older where they might not be ideal for the rebuilding process that the Lakers will undertake.
Steve Nash’s contract
The Lakers will have to be both creative and careful if they decide to use Nash’s 9.7 million dollar expiring deal in trade in order to acquire picks and/or young players. Nash serves no use as a contributor to a team so he can be used simply to acquire another player in trade.
Teams that would find Nash’s contract most attractive would be ones looking to dump one of their own bad, large and long term contracts on another team but that would not entice the Lakers since they are saving their cap space in the coming years to land a big name free agent. The Lakers could possibly be interested in taking a big, longer term deal, say 2 years, if it includes a high value asset like an unprotected 1st round pick and/or a young player with potential. The Lakers receiving an offer like this would be a less than likely scenario.
A situation that is more common is the Lakers using Nash’s contract to make a complicated multi-team trade work and getting a draft pick or young player for their participation.
Another scenario would be if the Lakers need to match a large salary in trade for a star player that they covet and they’ll throw Nash’s contract in their package to make the numbers work.
What he can net in trade? 1st round pick and/or young players with potential if taken with large, 2+ year contract or part of bigger deal to acquire a star.
Jordan Hill is on the first year of a 2 year deal that pays him 18 million dollars in total, with the 2nd year being a team option. Hill has shown this season that with more playing time and a starters role he can produce. Hill is averaging career highs in points (12 ppg), rebounds (8 rpg) and in free throw percentage (78 percent.) Hill ranks 4th in the team in scoring, 1st in rebounds and 2nd in blocks.
While Hill is far from a star player he has shown he can be a valuable blue collar type role player on a championship contending team and should be able to get a combination of 2nd round picks, young players or possibly even a minimally protected 1st round pick, but the Lakers would need to take back a minimum of 75 percent of Hill’s contract back in trade which they would be amenable to if it is an expiring deal.
What he can net in trade? minimally-moderately protected 1st round pick or couple of 2nd round picks.
Lin is a dynamic offensive player that has had both good and bad moments this season for the Lakers. What makes Lin most attractive is that he is on the last year of his contract which pays him 14.8 million, but a team only has to match the average amount of around 8 million which makes his contract easier to move.
A playoff or championships contending team looking for offensive punch off the bench from a back court player that can play both positions would want Lin’s services.
What he can net in trade? Highly protected 1st round pick, 2nd round pick or good young player with potential.
Ellington is a valuable piece to any team in need of floor spacing and should command a 2nd round pick or decent young player in trade. Ellington would be safe pick up for any team looking for shooters as he has been a consistent performer throughout his 6 year career. Ellington is averaging 7.2 points and shooting 39.8 percent from 3 which are right around his career averages in those categories.
What he can net in trade? 2nd round pick
Young is on a 4 year deal so he isn’t as attractive to other teams needing temporary help but it is reasonably priced at around 5 million per year so there would be takers for teams looking to strengthen their bench scoring. Young could get the Lakers a healthy amount of assets if moved but it appears that the Lakers are interested in keeping him around. The Lakers showed their long term commitment by singling out Young as one of the few players this off-season to get a guaranteed multi-year deal that paid more than a minimum contract.
Young is 29 which is a little older for a player to be included in a rebuilding project but he’s a dynamic and potent scorer that will help a team in any phase which the Lakers thought was worthy of retaining. Outside of his game, Young has a magnetic personality that works well in the locker room and is a fan favorite, both of which certainly entered into the decision of the Lakers to re-sign Young long term.
While unlikely, with his high value, if the right deal is presented and considering the Lakers current state he can be moved.
What he can net in trade? A combination of a moderately protected 1st round pick, 2nd round picks and/or good young player with potential.
If the Lakers continue to swoon they will have a high percentage chance of finishing with one of the 5 worst records in the league which will allow them to keep their 2015 1st round pick. The Lakers already have Houston’s 1st round pick and if they make the right moves now with the very attractive players listed in the above Pool D (The Honey Hole) they can acquire numerous draft picks over the next few years and young players by season’s end. The draft picks, young players they potentially can acquire this year and already have on the roster such as Clarkson and Randle, and add the mounts of cap space they have to acquire players this coming off-season, the Lakers would have a nice foundation to rebuild and do so quickly.