The Truth About Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, and Derek Fisher

I didn’t really need ESPN’s Marc Stein to tell me the Lakers had made Steve Blake and Chris Duhon available to any team interested in a trade. For starters, every player outside of the top-6 on this season’s Lakers team is essentially costing them double when you factor in the luxury tax. So if the Lakers could find a taker for the final two years and $8 million left on Blake’s deal, they would jump at the chance when you consider his actual cost to the team is more than $16 million. Duhon, on the other hand, is owed $3.5 milion for this season but he can be bought out of the $3.75 million he’s due in 2013-14 for just $1.5 million.

You’d first have to ask yourself why any team would make a trade for either of them. Forget how you feel about them as players. I’ll get to that later. What business incentive would a team have to trade for them? If a team wanted to trade for Steve Blake as a means of creating cap room than they would have to part with a player who has more guaranteed years left on his contract than the two that Blake has left. You can cross that scenario out because it’s the Lakers who are trying to save money here. So if that’s the case, then the Lakers would love to be able to move Blake either to a team that has the cap space to absorb the final two seasons left on his deal or one that can offer them back either someone in the final year of their deal or on a non-guaranteed deal.

Back in July, I wrote about how Mitch Kupchak has made a practice of doing just that. In an attempt to save the Buss family money, he’s found teams to take players off the Lakers with fewer than two seasons left on their contracts in exchange for guys on expiring deals. Kupchak has been able to convince other GMs to take back guys like Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton by offering them draft picks. The problem is that after trading for Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill, Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard, the Lakers don’t have any upcoming draft picks to trade. In fact, the earliest first-round pick that the Lakers can trade right now would be in 2019. As far as second-round picks, how much is a second-round pick from a team that’s guaranteed to finish with a top-5 record worth? Teams could probably purchase better second-round picks for a lot less than the $4-8 million they’d be paying Steve Blake to get one.

**The Lakers do have the Grizzlies’ second round pick in next year’s draft but if it ends up between 31 and 55, which is likely, then the Grizzlies keep the pick.

Duhon’s case is a little bit different than Blake’s because even though Duhon’s only guaranteed $1.5 million in 2013-14, his contract can be traded for it’s full value of $3.75 million. So a team could trade for Duhon now with the idea of planning to trade him again next summer to a team looking to either trim their 2013-14 payroll or their luxury tax bill. Because Blake is guaranteed $3 million more over the next two seasons, that would make Duhon a much more likely candidate to be traded.

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That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Lakers, considering that they’ve yet to use their amnesty. Blake is still eligible as an amnesty candidate but Duhon isn’t, since he was acquired via trade. At worst, if they really wanted to save money, the Lakers could use their amnesty on Blake next summer and buy Duhon out for $1.5 million. They’d still be looking at a substantial savings when higher luxury tax penalties kick in next season. But the sooner either of them gets dealt, the more money the Lakers would save — especially if they could avoid having to use their amnesty on Blake.

Unlike most Lakers fans, I like Steve Blake as long as he’s coming off the bench. I like that he can play both guard positions and I like that he made 38 percent of the three-pointers he took in home games last season (bench players usually have better numbers at home than they do on the road). Let’s not forget this season will be the third different offense that Blake will have played in as a Laker. That’s three different offenses in three seasons. Not exactly an easy adjustment for a point guard who only plays about 22 minutes per game.

Blake’s also a lot tougher than he’s given credit for. Last year he suffered torn cartilage on his rib cage and this season he returned sooner than expected after puncturing his foot on a spike strip in the parking lot of the team’s practice facility. And you can’t mention Steve Blake and toughness in the same sentence without mentioning his infamous fight with John Gilchrist.

So while Duhon is more likely to get traded for business reasons, Blake is the one who has a better chance of getting traded for basketball reasons. His $4 million contract isn’t horrible if a team is able to move a worse player on an expiring deal and possibly a second-round pick to get him — someone like Matt Carroll ($3.5 million), Raja Bell ($3.48 million), or Johan Petro ($3.5 million). Blake’s 2014 expiring deal could be worth more than any of those guys’ 2013 expiring deals.

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So just remember that any talk you hear about the Lakers moving either of these guys and replacing him with Derek Fisher on a minimum deal is much more a business move than a basketball one. The fact that Fisher is as respected as anybody who has ever put on a Lakers uniform is just icing on the cake. Would I have liked to see Fisher retire as a Laker? Absolutely. But it probably should have happened after the Lakers were eliminated by the Mavericks in 2011. Expect the unexpected when it comes to Mitch Kupchak. He only needs to find one other team out of 29 to get a deal done.
In case you missed it: Kobe talks A-Rod, growing up in a family of “a-holes.”
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