The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t had an easy go of things lately with LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee missing games due to various ailments.
Injuries are an unfortunate way of life in the NBA, but given how tight the race is in the Western Conference, the Lakers might feel some pressure to make a move before the trade deadline in order to right the ship. James is a lot of things, but patient isn’t one of them.
However, there are a number of issues complicating any Lakers trade. They have made salary cap space for this summer a priority so that they can pursue free agents like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and others, which makes taking on salary in a deal difficult.
They also have to weigh the benefits of parting with assets now instead of preserving them for a future move, especially in the event that the New Orleans Pelicans wait until this summer — at the earliest — to relent on trading Anthony Davis.
That said, the Lakers have slipped down to the final playoff spot in the West during this injury-fueled descent and missing the playoffs with a James-led team simply isn’t an option. A move or two might need to be made.
Taking everything into consideration, here are five players the Lakers should consider making a play for before the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline:
Kemba Walker: The Charlotte Hornets have expressed a desire to keep their dynamic point guard around long-term, but he will be a free agent this summer and if they get the impression he will leave, they would be best-served to find a trade so they can get something in return.
A straight-up trade for Lonzo Ball would work financially and allow the Lakers to bolster their scoring punch with the 28-year-old Walker, who is currently third among guards in Eastern Conference All-Star voting while putting up 25.1 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, now the general manager of the Hornets, would get a young replacement for Walker who is locked up on a rookie contract for two more seasons beyond 2018-19.
Trading Walker would be a tough pill to swallow, but given his status as a free agent this summer it may be the best path for the Hornets.
A Ball-for-Walker swap would be tricky for Los Angeles. While Ball has been a roller coaster this season in terms of production, losing him only to potentially see Walker go elsewhere in July would be a crushing blow.
They would need some assurances from Walker’s camp that he would return when he hits free agency.
Additionally, while Walker has a very team-friendly contract this year at just $12 million he will carry a cap hold of $18 million when free agency begins, and a max contract (which someone will almost certainly give him) would start at nearly $33 million per season.
Trading Ball for Walker would essentially take the Lakers out of the running for max-level free agents this summer, which may be too high of a price to pay unless the Lakers get word that the cream of the free agent crop won’t consider signing with them.
Additionally, if the Lakers believe Walker is the player they need to put them over the top (and can be a fit alongside James) they may be better off hanging onto Ball as a future asset and chasing Walker with cap space in free agency. The benefit of adding Walking now is that the Lakers would get the punch they need to surge into the playoffs, but parting with Ball to do so may be too high of a price to pay.
Terrence Ross: This is a name that popped up when the Trevor Ariza-to-LA rumors were at their peak. While Ariza was ultimately shipped to the Washington Wizards, the key takeaway for those trying to get a read on the Lakers’ plans was that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wanted out.
With free agency coming this summer, Caldwell-Pope was rumored to be hoping for a move to a team that would give him more minutes and a bigger role, thus allowing him to cash in on a more lucrative, long-term deal this summer.
Caldwell-Pope’s agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, also represents James as well as Davis, so it wouldn’t hurt to do him a solid and find a new home for Caldwell-Pope. However, the Lakers badly need Caldwell-Pope’s shooting off the bench, so they can’t let him simply walk away without finding a replacement, which is what led to the Ariza discussions.
With Ariza no longer available, Terrence Ross could be an excellent replacement target. The Orlando Magic swingman is shooting 39 percent from three this season while ranking in the 84th percentile as a spot-up shooter per Synergy Sports.
Ross, like Ariza and Caldwell-Pope, is on an expiring contract, which means the swap could be made without taking away any of the Lakers’ precious cap space next summer.
The challenges with such a trade are that Orlando would likely want more than just Caldwell-Pope, so Los Angeles may have to sweeten the pot a bit using lower-level assets like a second round pick or two. Additionally, the Magic already have Evan Fournier starting at shooting guard, which means that a move from Disneyland to Disney World may not provide Caldwell-Pope with the extra minutes he needs.
If he feels that he won’t be any better off in Orlando, Caldwell-Pope holds the right to veto any trade due to the one-year deal the Lakers signed him to last summer since being shipped to a new team would cost him his Bird rights.
There’s plenty of sticking points in this trade, but from the Lakers perspective, if Caldwell-Pope wants out it would be difficult to find a better replacement than Ross.
Jeremy Lin: Could Linsanity return to Los Angeles? The Lakers have been thin at the point guard position this season due to multiple injuries to Rondo, forcing head coach Luke Walton to use James, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson and even Svi Mykhailiuk to initiate the offense.
Thus, it probably wouldn’t hurt to add another true point guard to the roster, and the veteran Lin would be a solid fill-in off the bench and also has an expiring contract that would make an easy swap with the aforementioned Caldwell-Pope.
Lin has shown the ability to play shooting guard in spurts, which would come in handy in the event that he, Ball, and Rondo are all healthy at the same time. He’s a career 35 percent shooter from three, and while he plays an entirely different game compared to Caldwell-Pope, there would be some benefit to adding Lin to the roster.
The rebuilding Atlanta Hawks are in asset acquisition mode and may value getting a look at the 25-year-old Caldwell-Pope. Minutes could be an issue with Kent Bazemore and Kevin Huerter entrenched at the shooting guard spot, though both are working their way back from injuries.
Anthony Davis: Let’s dream for a moment. Davis, who joins James on the Mount Rushmore of active NBA players, has made comments recently suggesting that money won’t be a deciding factor in his decision this summer when the New Orleans Pelicans offer him a “super max” contract, and instead legacy will be what drives him.
That can’t be comforting for New Orleans to hear, as being able to throw more cash at Davis than anyone else is one of the few advantages they have in their quest to keep their superstar.
The fact that Davis also switched agencies this summer, signing with Klutch Sports, was panic-inducing for the Big Easy. Still, the Pelicans hold the upper-hand since Davis is under contract until the summer of 2020.
But if he turns down the Pelicans’ offer this summer of a new contract it will be a clear sign he intends to leave when he hits free agency and the team would have little choice but to trade him.
What if, instead of waiting until the summer, Davis informs the Pelicans now that he won’t sign that new deal? From the Pelicans’ perspective, it still makes sense for them to wait until the summer to make a trade since the Boston Celtics are currently prohibited from trading for Davis currently due to a quirk in the NBA’s rules that prevents teams from trading for multiple “Rose rule” contract players, which both Davis and Celtics guard Kyrie Irving are.
However, once Irving signs a new deal this summer that restriction is removed and Boston will almost certainly open up their treasure trove of assets in the hopes of landing Davis. At the very least, Boston’s bid should drive up the price for Davis and allow the Pelicans to get top dollar for their franchise player.
Yet, Davis and Klutch Sports still have some measure of control in where he lands due to his free agency in 2020. If they make it known to Boston that they don’t wish to play there and would leave in a year would that dissuade the Celtics, or other teams, from putting forth their best offer? Boston could take the risk, as Oklahoma City did with Paul George and Toronto has done with Kawhi Leonard, but if he keeps his word and leaves that could be a costly mistake.
Navigating those waters can be unsettling and leave the Pelicans in turmoil. Again, suspending disbelief, if Davis makes it known he won’t resign with New Orleans and that he will do what he can to scare off certain teams from making a massive offer, the Lakers could make a competitive bid now that might be tough to turn down.
While they would certainly like to hang on to some of their young core of Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Ball and Ingram, pairing James with a player like Davis may be enticing enough for them to go all-in before the Celtics can have their say.
Wayne Ellington: Historically, teams built around James have focused on adding snipers who can make teams pay for collapsing into the paint. This past summer the Lakers went a different route, adding players that they saw as versatile playmakers who could take some of the offensive burden off of their new star.
As many feared, the additions of Michael Beasley, Rondo and McGee hasn’t done much to provide spacing for the Lakers (though they all have other strengths they bring), and a decrease in three-point percentage this season from Kuzma and Ingram has only compounded the issue.
We should note that fellow new-Laker Lance Stephenson, who is only a 31 percent career shooter from deep, is hitting an impressive 37 percent this season, but that hasn’t been enough to keep the Lakers from ranking 26th in the league in three-point percentage.
As such, it would make sense for the Lakers to seek out a veteran sharpshooter at the deadline, and Ellington (38 percent from three for his career) could be a good fit. He has found himself out of the rotation over the last few weeks with the Miami Heat and his expiring deal is worth just over $6 million.
The Lakers might need to engage in a three-way trade to get a deal done since Ellington’s salary is just barely too high to work in a swap for Beasley and while Stephenson’s salary would work he has been a better player this season than Ellington. Perhaps Ellington’s fit helps close that gap a little, but the Lakers may need to get creative to put a workable deal together.
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