At 17-22, the Lakers have a difficult ladder to climb in order to reach the postseason. Lakers fans have become accustomed to regular trips into May and June, but fans now are being confronted with a different reality: the Lakers – the second-oldest team in the NBA – may have run out of tricks to continue to revamp their aging roster.
Are more acquisitions the answer? The Lakers in the offseason had acquired what was being touted as “the best team on paper”, so to keep turning the trade wheels may seem a bit fruitless. The current roster, despite leading the league in “moral” victories, has yet to show why it should stay intact. With the NBA Trade Deadline (February 21st) a little over a month a month away, as Amateur General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, here are a bevy of moves that work to acquire value for under-performing stars and expiring contracts. But first, let’s take a look at the available assets:
The Lakers currently have only one contract on the books for the 2014-15 NBA season. PG Steve Nash, who will turn 41 years old halfway through the final year of his contract, will be the final remaining relic of the 2012-13 Lakers. Should the Lakers not resign any of their expiring contracts over the coming two years, Nash’s age, declining defense and healthy contract may be the centerpiece of a young and rebuilding Lakers squad. However, should the Lakers choose to move Nash’s contract, the team would need to acquire starting point guard talent to fill the void at the position with Steve Blake still recovering from injury.
Since the Lakers stood fast and rebuffed trade demands from Kobe Bryant during the 2006-07 season, it’s highly unlikely that the team would look to move their greatest player in franchise history in the final year of his deal. Further, a team making a move for Kobe Bryant’s $30 million contract for 2013-2014 is just as doubtful. Would the Lakers dare using their available amnesty clause on the final year of Bryant’s contract? The larger question for Bryant and the Lakers is, should Bryant wish to continue playing into his late 30s, at what price do the Lakers pay at the expense of their cap space? If Bryant’s price is too high, would the Lakers let Bryant test free agency?
A longstanding target of trade rumors, Pau Gasol’s current value has diminished after a current rash of injuries ranging from plantar fasciitis to tendonitis to sustaining a concussion. At $19 million a year for his remaining two years on the Lakers, Gasol’s decline has led to his expendability while simultaneously causing his trade value to plummet. Perhaps a change of scenery, or the opportunity to play primarily in the low post, is what Gasol needs to thrive once more.
If Lakers fans were expecting Dwight Howard to be the second coming at Shaquille O’Neal, this Lakers season has been a massive disappointment (unless, of course, you were looking for O’Nealean free throw shooting). While the points and rebounds haven’t dipped much following Howard’s offseason back surgery, the lack of explosiveness and recent torn labrum injury have led some pundits to question if the Dwight Howard we once knew is gone for good.
1. Dwight Howard to the Dallas Mavericks for Dirk Nowitzki
The Mavericks were a potential free agent suitor for Dwight Howard prior to his one-year extension in Orlando. When Howard decided that he didn’t want to play the villain in Orlando, Mark Cuban’s allocated cap space this offseason went towards one-year signings for rental veterans Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.
Would Mark Cuban want a four-month window to entice Howard to stay and resign with the Mavs this offseason? Conceptualy, the move would help Dallas in freeing up the combined two years and $43 million remaining on Dirk Nowitzki’s current contract. Additionally, the move would reunite Nowitzki and Steve Nash, who started their careers together in Dallas. Though Nowitzki often utilizes the low block in his game (real estate that Pau Gasol hasn’t used consistently since Howard came to town), Nowitzki’s game would offer more flexibility from the perimeter to spread the floor should D’Antoni decide to feature Gasol on the block. Unfortunately, Nowitzki has inked a no-trade clause in his contract, and barring a sudden change of heart, the 2011 Finals MVP will likely retire a Maverick.
2. Dwight Howard to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and a 2014 protected 1st Round Pick
A Dwight Howard-to-DC move would function for the Wizards – at worst – as a franchise mulligan. By dumping the massive contracts of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, the Wizards would have almost $21 million in free cap room for the summer of 2014 should Howard not choose to resign. Best case scenario, Howard stays in the Chocolate City and forms a slash-and-slam game with John Wall that would make 2K13 players drool.
For the Lakers, the move reunites the Lakers with the athletic Ariza and allows Okafor to take over the power forward position. More importantly, the Lakers acquire a sorely needed draft pick for the future of the franchise once Bryant, Gasol and Nash retire.
NOTE: The terms of this trade being “fair” are based on Washington protecting their 2014 pick. However, should they not do this – entirely possible, given that the Clippers only two years ago lost out on Kyrie Irving because they didn’t protect their pick – the Lakers would be in possession of a lottery pick for the first time since drafting Andrew Bynum in 2005.
3. Earl Clark to the Charlotte Bobcats for 2013 and 2014 1st Round Picks.
In your dreams. Just wanted to make sure that everyone was paying attention.
4. Pau Gasol to the Atlanta Hawks for Josh Smith and Johan Petro/Kyle Korver
For Lakers fans longing to trade Pau Gasol, you finally get your wish. The Atlanta Hawks would ship Smith, a longtime polarizing figure for Hawks fans, reuniting him with former AAU teammate and preschool classmate(!) Dwight Howard. The trade would also work to acquire either Johan Petro, adding much needed frontcourt depth with the season-ending injury to Jordan Hill, or Kyle Korver, providing much-needed three-point shooting off the bench.
5. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to the Toronto Raptors for Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Landry Fields and a 2014 1st Round Pick
Steve Nash was heavily pursued by the Raptors this offseason before deciding to stay close to his children in Phoenix and sign with the Lakers. With a Raptors team lacking a true identity, a potent pick-and-roll duo of Gasol and Nash would likely get the Raptors into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. For the Raptors, the opportunity to offload Landry Fields’ contract and part ways with failed franchise player Andrea Bargnani would be a welcome opportunity, especially if it meant bringing in Native Son Steve Nash for $10 million less than their free agent offer this last summer.
If a move like this occurred, it would be a massive endorsement from the Lakers organization that Mike D’Antoni is secure as the Lakers head coach. The Lakers in the deal would acquire Jose Calderon, a poor man’s Steve Nash who has been the focus of Lakers trade rumors for the last two years. Andrea Bargnani would provide the Lakers with a power forward comfortable with taking outside shots, a spot that Pau Gasol found uncomfortable in Mike D’Antoni’s new system. Landry Fields, putting up career lows in Toronto, would be reunited with D’Antoni from Fields’ rookie year with the New York Knicks. Fields in his first year with D’Antoni shot over 39 percent from behind the arc, made NBA All-Rookie First Team, and at 24 years old would infuse the Lakers with some much needed youth. And while the Raptors would likely push their 2014 1st round pick back a few spots with a playoff appearance, a draft pick even in the teens would be a welcome sight to a team that hasn’t had a first round draft pick in what will be four years.
6. Pau Gasol to the Boston Celtics – Paul Pierce to the Memphis Grizzlies – Jason Collins and Rudy Gay to the Los Angeles Lakers
In the only three-team trade of the group, all three franchises would exchanges superstars to acquire positions of need. The Celtics get younger (slightly) by obtaining Pau Gasol, who immediately moves Kevin Garnett back to the power forward spot. The Grizzlies get a veteran small forward in Paul Pierce that can provide Celtic leadership and outside shooting for a deep playoff run into May and June – something the Grizzlies were looking for at last year’s trade deadline. Finally, the Lakers aquire a younger franchise player in Rudy Gay, allowing Metta World Peace to come off the bench as a defensive specialist and further spread the floor for Dwight Howard underneath the basket. Further, Jason Collins can help provide size off the bench following the season-ending injury to Jordan Hill.
Why would the Lakers consider Gay? Mentioned above, there’s only so much time left in Kobe Bryant’s contract. With the opportunity to shore up the Laker’s 3-5 offensive package for the next few years (should the Lakers resign Howard), wouldn’t it make sense to acquire the 26-year-old small forward at the expense of an aging, injured, out-of-position center that fans have been looking to trade for years?
To be blunt, it’s unlikely that the Lakers make a move at this year’s trade deadline. Despite being a first-ballot submission for history’s All-Disappointment team, Lakers Executive Vice President Jim Buss believes that this year’s team is “built to win” and that the organization “would not consider a temporary fix or blow it up”. As an honest question, at what point do you determine that the team structure as it is currently designed is not working? The firing of Mike Brown and hiring of Mike D’Antoni suggest that the Lakers moves this season have been sudden, reactionary and possibly misaligned. With no easy fix to an aging, injury prone roster, Lakers fans may be starting to realize that a franchise rebuild – something the Lakers haven’t truly done since the post-Magic era – may be less than two full seasons away.
Will a trade fix the closing championship window? The Lakers have always had a history of stringing good fortune together into extended greatness. LakerNation, do you have any trade ideas for the Lakers? Post them here!
UPDATE: The Lakers have shown interest in Timberwolves forward Dante Cunningham. No trades have been discussed as of yet.