The closer we get to the NBA’s February 23rd trade deadline, the more convinced I am that the Los Angeles Lakers need to make a deal. I wouldn’t have said that back in November when they finished the month with a 10-10 record thanks to a super-fun offense and chemistry that was almost palpable, but an 8-27 record since then changed the narrative in a hurry.
Now, coach Luke Walton has committed to developing the team’s young players and has sent the Lakers’ main free agent acquisitions from last summer, veterans Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, to the bench. With the direction of the franchise clear (for now), it’s time to make some moves with the future in mind.
I spent entirely too much time playing with the ESPN Trade Machine and found five trades that I believe could realistically help all parties involved, with the goal of delivering young players, cap space, or picks to the Lakers. The young core of Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell won’t be traded, nor will the team make a move that would cause them to win more games this season and further jeopardize their massively important 2017 first round draft pick.
Away we go.
+ Washington’s 2017 1st Round Pick (Lottery Protected) to Los Angeles
After a disappointing 2015-2016 season, the Washington Wizards have bounced back this year, with John Wall doing his speed demon thing and Otto Porter taking another big step towards becoming the 3-and-D wing that teams love to have these days.
Their efforts have put them firmly in the mix of the upper-echelon of the Eastern Conference, but their bench is woefully thin, with scoring being a major problem. Enter Lou Williams, who is having a career year for the Lakers and provides the kind of instant-offense Washington so badly needs. Williams can play on-ball as a point guard for short stretches or off-the-ball as a shooting guard alongside Wall. His ability to knock in threes, create his own shot, and his very team-friendly contract are all things that would help Washington this season as well as next.
In exchange for Williams and Huertas (who would keep Sweet Lou company on the flight to Washington), the Lakers pick up a first-round pick that should end up somewhere in the low-to-mid twenties. Should disaster strike and their own top-three protected first round pick wind up in the clutches of the Philadelphia 76ers, this would ensure the Lakers could still be a player in the first round of the draft. Satoransky hasn’t been great as a 25-year-old rookie, but his contract is very cheap and would be easily disposed of should he not pan out. Burke’s deal expires after this season, and the Lakers would likely cut him loose and free up a little cap space.
Note: ESPN’s Kevin Pelton posted a somewhat similar deal involving Williams heading to the Charlotte Hornets for Ramon Sessions and the Hornets’ lottery protected 2017 first. I would definitely take that over this trade, but this deal with the Wizards would still get the job done. That’s what I get for letting Pelton beat me to the punch.
+2017 2nd round pick from Atlanta (via Brooklyn) to Lakers
The Atlanta Hawks are at a crossroads, sitting in the middle of the pack in the East and featuring Paul Millsap on an expiring contract. Millsap wants a big new deal this summer but turns 32 tomorrow, and the Hawks may decide that they don’t want to be the ones left holding the bill when the decline inevitably hits.
That said, Atlanta is still a playoff team this year and may decide to just stay the course and then figure out what’s what this summer. Should they go that route, this move would make a lot of sense. Black provides them with a quality reserve center behind Dwight Howard (who Black ironically started his career with in Houston), and while Calderon isn’t nearly as effective as he used to be, he can still shoot, which is kinda important in the NBA. Calderon’s deal expires this summer and Black’s is non-guaranteed, which means the risk would be minimal.
I hate making this trade for the Lakers because Black has been excellent and worth every penny of his contract, but the reality is that Los Angeles will likely have to waive him this summer if they want to pursue max-level free agents. If they are set on heading into meetings armed with a boatload of cash and Magic Johnson’s winning smile, getting something for Black now makes a lot of sense. Splitter, who hasn’t been effective due to injury, is an expiring contract, and the 2nd round pick the Hawks send is originating from Brooklyn, which means it will almost certainly be the first pick of the second round, which is a nice asset to add to a team that has been able to unearth talent later in the draft.
+2017 Houston 2nd (via POR) and 2018 Los Angeles 2nd (via DEN) to New Orleans
Aside from the delightfully resurgent Young, this deal shuffles around a number of bad contracts, but there is method to the madness. In this scenario, we are assuming that the New Orleans Pelicans are not successful in their pursuit of Jahlil Okafor but still want a big body to occasionally use next to Anthony Davis. Mozgov fits that bill and would be more effective than Asik or Ajinca. Of course, even though Asik and Ajinca aren’t on stellar contracts, they still aren’t as bad as the one Mozgov drags with him, hence the payment of a pair of second round picks, though admittedly that may not be enough.
Houston, meanwhile, would reunite Young with coach Mike D’Antoni, who brought the best out of him with the Lakers back in 2013-2014. On a Houston team that is already killing it offensively, Young provides one more flamethrower to scorch the net. Houston absorbs Ajinca but also parts ways with Brewer and his similarly bad deal. Ajinca’s contract does run one year longer than Brewer’s, but it’s cheaper on a per-year basis. A second-round pick is the price Houston pays for adding Young.
For the Lakers, they essentially break Mozgov’s deal into smaller pieces. Asik has just as many years on his contract, but it’s cheaper, and Brewer’s deal runs out right when Los Angeles will have to pay Julius Randle. Neither would likely be much help to the Lakers on the floor, but this deal is about minimizing damage. Young, who is certain to opt for free agency this summer and a 2nd round pick are the cost for slightly numbing the pain of Mozgov’s contract.
+ 2018 Oklahoma City 2nd round pick to Los Angeles
Lou Williams seems to be the most obvious candidate for the Lakers to trade given the bang-for-your-buck that he provides and the fact that, at 30 years old, his prime doesn’t fit with the Lakers’ young core. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder rely heavily on Russell Westbrook to create shots and the team’s offensive rating plummets 10 points when he is off the court.
Williams would go a long way towards solving that problem, and for the Lakers, Cameron Payne would give them an intriguing young guard to groom behind Russell. Payne has been somewhat underwhelming, and an OKC first round pick would probably be preferable, but unfortunately they don’t have a first rounder they can deal until 2022. With that being the case, this isn’t bad value and sends Williams to a place perfectly suited for his talents.
We will finish with the trade that is perhaps my favorite, although it’s also increasingly unlikely. With the Orlando Magic slipping in the East standings and the team rumored to be shopping veterans like Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic, they don’t appear to be in a win-now mindset, which this deal requires.
That said, should they look to make such a move in that direction, this would make a lot of sense. Former-Laker Meeks is out indefinitely after thumb surgery and Hezonja, who was the fifth overall pick in 2015, can barely get off Frank Vogel’s bench. Williams and Young would give them an instant spark to the second unit with their shooting, which Orlando sorely needs.
For the Lakers, they would take two players who aren’t part of the long-term future and turn them into a future piece in Hezonja. Things haven’t looked good for Hezonja’s stay in the NBA up to this point, but Los Angeles would do this deal in the hopes that Luke Walton can find a way to tap the potential that had everyone drooling at draft time.