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Best trades for the Lakers ahead of the deadline

Lakers, LeBron James

The trade deadline is one week away, and the Los Angeles Lakers could use some upgrades, though they don’t necessarily need any.

“We love what we got going on over here,” LeBron James rightfully said.

The Lakers are currently short-handed (yet fresh), but Anthony Davis (calf strain) is on track to return within a few weeks.

The Lakers have won all three games since the All-Star break, including two of their best offensive performances and stellar outings from their bench. They sit at 27-13 with the top-ranked defense and the best playoff closer in the world.

At full strength, L.A. has a talented and deep enough roster to repeat. But GM Rob Pelinka wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t make a few calls.

Pelinka has been quiet at the deadline since taking over. In 2019, he traded Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac to the Los Angeles Clippers for Mike Muscala (oops) and acquired Reggie Bullock from the Detroit Pistons for Svi Mykhailiuk. In 2020, he stood pat.

Pelinka’s trade options are limited. L.A. can’t trade a first-rounder until 2027, and they’ve dealt away second-rounders in 2021, 2022, and 2026. The Lakers are barely below the hard-cap (without a trade exception), leaving little wiggle room when it comes to matching salaries in any trade.

James and Davis are untouchable. Kyle Kuzma ($3.5 million in 2020), Dennis Schröder ($15.5M), Montrezl Harrell ($9.3M) and Caruso ($2.8M) are too important to swap for a marginal improvement. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($12M), a Klutch client, holds eminently more value on L.A. than on another team.

It’s hard to imagine another club being interested in Marc Gasol ($2.6M), Markieef Morris ($2.3M), or Wesley Matthews ($3.6M) for anything other than a salary filler. Ditto for Alfonzo McKinnie ($1.8M) and Jared Dudley ($2.6M).

That leaves Talen Horton-Tucker. The 20-year old is making $1.5 million but can earn up to $83 million in free agency (he’ll have numerous suitors). The sophomore is coming off the best two-game stretch of his career, and he represents the franchise’s only young asset. Losing him for less than a borderline star is illogical and unrealistic.

Jeanie Buss insisted that she’s willing to front any luxury tax bill to keep the championship window open, implying that the franchise won’t look to off-load impending free agents Caruso, Horton-Tucker, Harrell, or Schröder in order to recoup value before the summer.

The degree of the Lakers’ issues is tricky to pinpoint due to Davis’ absence, his expected move back to center in the playoffs, and the brutal calendar since October (including almost no practice time).

Yet, they are exploring frontcourt upgrades, and their three-point shooting is unreliable. Another wing defender and/or occasional ball-handler wouldn’t hurt, either.

The Lakers will only seek players who are ready to contribute to a title run. Two potential fits — P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza — are off the board.

The buyout market is far and away the easiest route. (Whether they re-up Damian Jones will determine if they have one or two open roster spots to fill.)

That said, let’s run down the list of potential trade targets.

Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins

Jones, on his second 10-day contract, has performed adequately in six games while providing an element of verticality the team has sorely lacked since Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee departed.

Still, it doesn’t require a close reading of tea leaves to glean that the Lakers may not be completely satisfied with their frontcourt.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Lakers are believed to be one of Drummond’s top suitors, but only via a buyout. Aldridge’s camp has not been linked to L.A., and his $24 million salary is virtually impossible for the Lakers to match in a trade.

Cousins is earning $17 million in 2020-21, which the Houston Rockets fully guaranteed before the two sides agreed to part ways. There’s no trade route that makes sense for the Lakers here. They could match salaries if Houston was willing to take Caldwell-Pope’s contract, but KCP is far better than Cousins at this stage.

Hassan Whiteside

Because of Whiteside’s $2.3 million salary, the Lakers could make a trade work. It’s possible the Sacramento Kings would accept a reserve (McKinnie?) and second-rounder for the center, rather than paying him to skedaddle.

L.A. reportedly has an interest in Whiteside as a contingency plan. The 31-year old would theoretically check a few boxes — he provides size (7’0, 265), shot-blocking (3.2 blocks per 36), and multiple years of service. He’s averaging 19.9 points and 14 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Whiteside isn’t a natural locker room fit, as he’s yet to prove capable of being a key cog on a winning group. On the other hand, the Lakers strong culture (led by James) got the best behavior out of Howard.

JJ Redick

The Lakers rank 28th in 3-pointers made per game. They’ve heated up since the break, but perimeter shooting is the team’s biggest concern, especially once Davis shores up the rim protection. They have capable shooters, but they aren’t the Utah Jazz.

Redick would be an undeniable culture fit. On the court, Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid have both praised the two-man games they established with Redick, and he could find the same success with James and Davis.

Redick is making $13 million in 2020-21 and will be sought by other contenders. The Lakers would need to include, at least, a solid rotation player and/or the 2027 first-rounder to swing a Redick acquisition. That’s a lot for a guy who doesn’t really help on D.

George Hill would be an ideal addition, but Shams reported that Sam Presti is happy to keep him unless he receives a solid veteran point guard (and likely draft compensation) for Hill.

Wayne Ellington

This is the type of pre-deadline acquisition that might be the most feasible for the LakeShow.

The 12-year veteran is hitting 42.2% from deep this season, and his $2.6 million salary is matchable. The Lakers could snag Ellington for a second-rounder and a salary throw-in. He may not ultimately move the needle, but he would provide clutch shooting insurance as Matthews (33%) continues to disappoint.

Victor Oladipo

Oladipo-to-L.A. buzz has been fueled by images of the Rockets guard wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey. It’s widely known that Houston is shopping the former All-Star before losing him in free agency.

The 28-year old is averaging 21.2 points per game on 39.9% shooting since arriving in H-Town. He’s a career 33.2 % three-point shooter, and the Lakers would surely love to add his wing defense.

His $21 million salary means that L.A. would have to part with either Harrell or Schröder, or include Horton-Tucker in a package with Caldwell-Pope and draft compensation. If the Lakers truly distrust Harrell’s defense in the playoffs, I could see them flipping him for Dipo (and signing a vet via buyout), as Trez may walk in free agency, anyway.

But Harrell has been the Lakers’ second-best player of late (23.8 PPG over the last four), and L.A. values his energy off the bench too much to pull the trigger on a shake-up that substantial.

Myles Turner

The Indianapolis Star reported that the Lakers are one of a handful of teams eyeing Turner.

Pelinka should inquire about the 24-year old, who is leading the league in blocks. He’s the prototypical explosive two-center that the Lakers would love. It’s easy to envision James unlocking Turner’s offense with his elite orchestration, and it’s hard to see anyone scoring with him and Davis patrolling the bucket.

If L.A. could nab Turner ($17.5 million) for Harrell, non-rotation salary filler, and the 2027 first-rounder — that’s worth exploring. If they have to include Kuzma or THT — no thanks.