And so, the roller coaster ride towards the trade deadline begins for the Los Angeles Lakers and its fans. The Lakers are 25-24 midway to the season, and their superstar, LeBron James is in danger of missing his the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
James suffered a grade 3 groin injury during the third quarter of Los Angeles’ Christmas Day showdown with the Golden State Warriors, and while he’s expected to return anytime soon, it was pretty obvious that the Lakers have struggled to win without him.
After losses to the cellar-dwelling New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers (They almost lost to the Chicago Bulls too) in recent weeks, it is clear that the Lakers’ current roster isn’t getting the job done in LeBron’s absence. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma have been inconsistent on both ends of the floor, while Lonzo Ball hasn’t been able to run the team’s offense properly.
To simply put it, the Lakers’ young core hasn’t lived up to any of the expectations this season.
And with the trade deadline looming, the Lakers are now looking at every possibility, every trade scenario that will help improve the team. This includes breaking up the once ‘untouchable’ trio of Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball.
According to The Athletic’s Bill Oram, the Lakers are now willing to include the three aforementioned players, together with the rest of their young assets namely Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, and Moritz Wagner. The Lakers are reportedly looking for 3-point shooters with expiring contracts, or a blockbuster trade that will help them content for a title this year.
The Lakers seem to be desperate enough to save this season that they are now willing to sacrifice the young players they once believed to be part of the franchise’s long term future. Now, President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka are ready to wheel and deal.
The question is, what trades should they make.
1. A trade for Anthony Davis
Lakers get: Anthony Davis, Efriid Payton, second round pick
Pelicans get: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, first round picks(s)vvv
Is anyone surprised?
Of course the Lakers will be doing everything in their power to convince New Orleans to trade them Anthony Davis. Despite the Pelicans’ reluctance to let go of the 25 year-old All-Star, they aren’t doing anything to surround him with talent that’s good enough to win either.
The Pelicans are currently 12th in the Western Conference standings with a 22-27 record, and they are highly unlikely to make the playoffs. Their last trump card is to offer Davis a supermax deal this summer, an offer that AD will reportedly decline. The Pels know this and are still willing to play the waiting game before making the ultimate decision.
If the Lakers offer a package that includes Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball, that’s something that would be difficult to turn down, even for the Pelicans. Sure, they have the leverage in this situation but can they really get a better offer during the deadline?
New Orleans will get three guys who are already good enough to start for them, then add Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and they have a reliable shooter off the bench.
As for the Lakers, of course the ultimate goal is to add Davis, a second star that they can pair alongside LeBron James. If they can somehow get their hands on Efriid Payton, then they get someone that can share minutes with Rajon Rondo at the point guard position.
The chances of this happening in the trade deadline are slim, but you’ll never know. The Lakers have built a reputation of making blockbuster deals throughout the franchise’s entire existence, don’t be surprised if they pull this one off.
Lakers get: Bradley Beal, Jeff Green
Wizards get: Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Remember when Wizards’ owner Ted Lonsis said that the team doesn’t want to tank? Well, making a trade with the Lakers will not jeopardize their plans.
Nope, Washington won’t be making the playoffs even if they make this deal, but does that make a difference this season? It doesn’t look like they’re going to make it with their current line-up either, so why not begin the rebuild early?
With this trade, it’s not necessary for the Wizards to tank, as they will gain two promising prospects that they can build their future around. Ball can take over the responsibilities that will be left by Bradley Beal, while Kuzma will be the primary option on offense. Then they can just wait for John Wall’s return to see how this team responds with him in the line-up next season.
As for the Lakers, they hit two birds with one stone here. They get Beal, a star player that they can pair with LeBron, and Jeff Green, a decent 3-point shooter who’s in an expiring contract. What more can they ask for?
Lakers get: Trevor Ariza
Wizards get: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Should the Wizards refuse to trade Beal, the Lakers can still offer a straight swap between KCP and Trevor Ariza.
Washington will be able to keep Beal while also adding a 3-and-D guy in KCP, that can either start or come off the bench. As for the Lakers, they will be reunited with Ariza, who’s won a championship with the franchise. His defensive presence will help Los Angeles in the playoffs.
Both players are on expiring contracts too, so it’s a win-win.
3. A trade for Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross
Lakers get: Nikola Vucevic, second round pick
Magic get: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, first round pick
On paper, this seems like the Lakers are the losers in this one. However, please keep in mind that Vucevic is most likely going to be an All-Star this year, so his value in the trade market will be relatively high whether he’s worth it or not.
Vucevic is averaging 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game this season, and adding him will be a huge boost for the Lakers, as he can score in the paint and shoot 3-pointers as well. Plus he’s only 28 years old and on an expiring deal. Depending on how he performs with the franchise post trade-deadline, they will have the option to keep him or sign him long term.
As for Orlando, pretty much like New Orleans and Washington, the players that they will get here are young and promising. Ingram, when utilized properly, can be a primary option on offense. Ball can facilitate the offense, and Hart is an energy guy that can light up the team whether as a starter or someone that comes off the bench.
Didn’t Evan Fournier say that if the Magic don’t make the playoffs, then, ‘this is it’ for them? Newsflash, they won’t be making the playoffs, so might as well start the rebuild as early as possible.
Lakers get: Terrence Ross
Magic get: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Moritz Wagner
This is pretty much like the Trevor Ariza scenario. However, Terrence Ross is significantly younger. If the Lakers would like to trade for him, the Magic will most likely want a young asset in return. The Lakers will not include Ball, Ingram, or Kuzma in this deal. Instead, they can offer Moritz Wagner, a young center that can be similar to Vucevic when developed properly. He’s currently in his rookie deal so Orlando will be able to keep him for a cheap price.
4. A trade for Wayne Ellington
Lakers get: Wayne Ellington
A trade with the Miami Heat could be tricky, as the main goal of that franchise is to unload some of the big contracts they have. They will most likely ask the Lakers to take back salary to go alongside Ellington in a trade package.
The Lakers, who are preparing for next summer’s free agency, aren’t dumb enough to sabotage their future, nor will they be willing to part ways with their prized young assets for Ellington, who despite being a decent 3-point shooter, is also an aging veteran.
The likeliest scenario for the Heat to deal Ellington to the Lakers is if they can get some type of compensation, If the Lakers badly need a 3-point shooter, they can let go of Hart, then give Miami the expiring contract of either Lance Stephenson or Michael Beasley.
The Lakers are the losers in this trade, but again if they’re desperate enough to get Ellington, then this is likely what’s going to happen.
5. A deal for Dennis Smith Jr.
Lakers get: Dennis Smith Jr., JJ Barea
Mavericks get: Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart.
Before Dennis Smith Jr. reported back to the Dallas Mavericks, there were rumors that the Lakers wee one of the teams that showed interest in trading for him. And given the fact that DSJ is still likely to be traded, this conversation can intensify as trade deadline approaches.
Now why would the Lakers trade for him? He’s not a star (yet), and he’s not a 3-point shooter with an expiring contract. Well, the Lakers likely inquired about him during Rondo’s absence. They wanted to see if Smith will be able to do a better job than Lonzo at point. But now that Rondo is back, do they still need him?
However, in his two years in the league, Smith has shown more consistency on the court than Ball. He’s also more athletic, more aggressive, and a better shooter. The Lakers are likely intrigued by his potential and would like to see what a youngster like him can do alongside LeBron.
If the Lakers will push for a trade for Smith, the Mavericks will not ask for Ball, as they already have Luka Doncic. Instead, they will be looking for guys that will play well with the rookie. Ingram and Hart can do that for Dallas.
The ideal thing for the Lakers is to still wait until free agency and sign another star like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. That way, they will be able to pair another superstar with LeBron, while keeping their young core intact.
However, they would also like to make a deep run in the playoffs; and given the Lakers’ string of losses as of late, it looks like it will be much easier for Johnson and Pelinka to shake-up this roster.
Now, more than ever.