Six Moves the L.A. Lakers Should Make
Now that Los Angeles Lakers fans can stop focusing on Derek Fisher as Union President, they can go back to fixating on Fisher as the aging point guard and weak spot in the starting lineup.
At least judging by HOOPSWORLD chats, Twitter and casual conversation, the voice of Laker-fandom has voted Fisher off the island.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Lakers themselves have; far from it . . . although there’s no denying that Fisher, at 37, is well past the prime of his career.
The Lakers can boast Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom but the group didn’t win three straight titles, so something clearly has to change.
The obvious focus would be the remaining starters in Derek and the newly-named, voted off Dancing with the Stars in week one, Metta World Peace.
Can the Lakers acquire another point guard? Would a mediocre one be better than Fisher by virtue of not being Fisher?
Should the Lakers use their Amnesty Clause on Peace, who at this point doesn’t seem to have the ability to jump over dental floss?
Is the change already in place? Would additional rest after three grueling years of play until June and/or players, notably Bryant, not getting enough time to recover from surgeries, solve the problems without a single transaction?
Had the team tuned out Phil Jackson’s coaching voice? Will the new blood of Coach Mike Brown reinvigorate the squad?
What of the rookies, albeit second-round picks, Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock?
Is there a magic bullet General Manager Mitch Kupchak has yet to fire?
Can the Lakers use their Sasha Vujacic trade exception in a sign and trade to out-spend teams shopping with the Mid-Level Exception (MLE)?
#1 Land the Next Franchise Player (Read . . . Dwight Howard)
Right, so how do you go about doing that?
Kobe is already 33 years old. He has three remaining years on his contract. The team hopes and, to a certain extent, expects that he will remain one of the best players in the league through that stretch.
Gasol is 31 and may prove that his poor playoff performance last year was nothing but a fluke after what might have been his best regular season with the Lakers.
Bynum is just 24 but multiple knee injuries at least raise the specter of doubt that he will develop into the next elite Laker center.
If the combination didn’t work last year, maybe it was an aberration but will Bryant and Gasol improve with age or gradually diminish, however slightly?
Will Andrew stay healthy and develop into a dominant force?
In two-years’ time, sign and trade rules will constrict. The luxury tax penalty will dramatically increase.
Los Angeles needs to progressively think about who will carry the torch next. There’s that $150-$200 million a year coming in from Time Warner Cable starting in 2012 to think about.
LA can’t just be a good team. As one of the few, major economic draws for league, the Lakers need to stay on or near the top.
Sources say the Lakers, to that end, are open to any conversation that could lead to the next star.
Bryant, who has a no-trade clause, isn’t someone the team would consider moving at this time anyway.
Anyone else? That’s negotiable.
Bynum may still prove to be great. Howard is great already. Andrew may have a few more post moves but he’s nowhere close to Dwight’s level of consistency as a player.
Dwight has the big, Hollywood-ready personality. Getting him will not be easy but it may fall less on the Lakers’ shoulders and more on Howard’s. It’s really up to him to push LA, just as Chris Paul is trying to get the New Orleans Hornets to send him to the New York Knicks.
If it takes Bynum or Gasol, then so be it. Taking back Hedo Turkoglu? Maybe. Lamar Odom out too? Perhaps.
The Lakers may even have to take a step back in year one in depth if it means locking in the future.
For the record, Turkoglu is certainly overpaid at $11.4 million on average for the next two years but he can be bought out for $6 million the following season . . . when taxes are set to increase.
#2 Dwight Howard Traded for Andrew Bynum, Now What?
While a straight-up trade can work, there could easily be additional demands from the Magic. Does that mean Odom/Turkoglu? Any other considerations?
If the Lakers have Howard, Gasol and Odom, not much would need changing from the Bynum era. The hope would be Howard in his prime could help the aging group win now, while the rest of Andrew’s development takes place in Orlando.
Note, Bynum is suspended the first five games of the season for a hard and unnecessary foul on the Dallas Mavericks’ J.J. Barea. Would the Magic want to wait before triggering a deal? Are they even willing to trade before the season? At the deadline? Or even wait until next summer?
If the price to bring in Howard takes Odom too, that puts the Lakers in a position where they need a high-level third big . . . no simple task.
LA wouldn’t be able to shop Gasol for a point guard like Paul if that left them with just Howard and no Odom, Bynum or Gasol.
If Odom is not needed in an Orlando trade, the Lakers can look to move either Pau or Lamar.
Perhaps Gasol might attract a top point guard but if the Hornets are losing Paul, does it make sense at that point to add Pau?
Odom would have some value, perhaps to the Philadelphia 76ers or Atlanta Hawks. He’s probably not going to bring back the same return as Gasol.
The key is finding that third big while adding at the point or filling any further holes created by acquiring Howard.
#3 Dwight Howard Traded for Pau Gasol, Now What?
In this scenario, the Lakers have given up Gasol and have two centers on the roster who essentially can’t play together. Now Odom becomes valuable again as the starting four.
Would the Lakers then be able to turn Bynum into a player like Chris Paul?
Again there would be need for a third big, but Andrew may be more appealing to a team like New Orleans than Gasol (because of age).
It seems far too much to ask but the Lakers would have Paul, Bryant, Odom, Howard as four of the starting five. That’s quite a lineup.
Like anything, it’s possible . . . and like most NBA blockbuster deals, it’s highly unlikely.
The Lakers must consider all options and if they can turn their assets into Howard that’s not one-sided (relatively speaking), it’s a move they need to make.
If they can keep enough bait to land Paul, by all means but Laker fans simply should not expect anything close. Landing Howard alone will take a tremendous amount of luck.
#4 Minor Moves Must Keep #1-3 in mind
Until the Howard situation is settled, for better or for worse, the Lakers need to mind their assets and not make a move that could limit their ability to land the All-Star center.
If Bryant’s window is closing, making a lateral move doesn’t further that end.
So if Fisher is a bottleneck at the point, and releasing that endangers the chance at the next franchise player – then learn to love the bottleneck.
That’s why the Lakers probably need to hold onto Odom. He can fill in as a starter. He can be included in a deal with his friendly salary. Moving Lamar for a minor upgrade at the point could be short-sighted.
Kupchak will meet with the media Friday and in all likelihood emphasize that he believes the team can with the existing group (with the possible additions of a guard and a reserve big).
Chasing the big fish will happen but it might not be available to the Lakers before season starts.
LA has to make the best moves possible to increase their odds at ring right here and now, but everything must be mindful of the future and what it will take to bring in the next wave of star power.
#5 Vujacic Trade Exception
This is the crucial one because it’s set to expire on December 15th. It’s theoretically possible the NBA will grant extensions on trade exceptions given the long period of down time. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors may have seen significant exceptions expire over the summer.
The Lakers can bring in up to $5,575,113 in salary to complete the Sasha Vujacic non-simultaneous trade without sending a single player out.
Taking a look around the league and the list of players potentially available by the 15th is not particularly impressive. The best of the bunch, based on need, might be Daniel Gibson or Mickael Pietrus.
Certainly the Lakers aren’t going to get a valuable player for nothing. There would have to be a reason for a team to just give away a player with nothing more than say a conditional, future second-round pick that never comes (and a trade exception).
Other names might include Ben Wallace, Nazr Mohammed, Ryan Hollins and Anthony Tolliver – all probably a stretch.
Other than Gibson, who didn’t necessarily play his best ball under Coach Brown after his first season with the Cavaliers, the Lakers might not have much luck fixing the point guard issue with the trade exception the traditional way.
One caveat, the Lakers may be able to use the trade exception in a sign and trade.
In essence, it would give them a bargaining chip greater than the standard $5 million Mid-Level Exception.
The Lakers are armed, as a taxpayer, with their mini-MLE which is worth $3 million in the first year.
In other words, LA not only has the $9.4 million three-year offer to dole out as currency but up until the 15th, a four-year $23.8 million package to entice talent.
That’s why they’re reaching out to players like Shane Battier (Kobe Bryant’s first choice and perhaps not coincidentally, the Lakers’ as well), Tayshaun Prince, Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford. LA has also expressed interest in Grant Hill.
The key, and possibly difficult part, is getting the competing team to agree to a sign and trade before it expires.
To an extent it might help Mark Cuban to gain a trade exception in a Butler deal but would he look to help the Lakers? Would he try to leverage more out of LA at the threat of passing until expiration?
That’s why an Eastern Conference team like the Detroit Pistons or Atlanta Hawks may be more pliable, although the Pistons can technically get under the cap if they desire. If so, the trade exception generated would be worthless for Detroit.
The Grizzlies are somewhat of a Western Conference rival but if they don’t intend on keeping Battier (which is likely the case in order to bring back Marc Gasol without paying luxury taxes or trading Rudy Gay), perhaps they take an exception and some other considerations.
The Vujacic trade exception may be the Lakers last, best opportunity to add an above average player in free agency. Although luxury tax will be an issue, the team would still have their mini-MLE to spend on some size or a guard.
This assumes the trade exception/sign and trade rule hasn’t changed in the yet-to-be-ratified-Collective Bargaining Agreement.
#6 Improve at Point Guard
Back to the anti-Fisher movement. Notice how the names the Lakers have been linked too aren’t point guards? The closest is Crawford who is a legitimate combo guard and a good fit, even if he’s already over 30.
The Lakers are not going to become a young-team overnight.
They may land their big fish in Howard. There’s even a slight, slight chance they get Paul but neither should be expected, especially the latter.
LA wants to improve defensively first and foremost. They also need more foot-speed and consistent spot-up shooting.
There’s not going to be nearly enough time for Coach Brown to implement his new systems, whatever that’s going to look like offensively and defensively.
Fisher outside of the triangle has a greater chance of being exposed. Arguably he should move to backup two-guard but Steve Blake struggled in his first year with the Lakers and rookie Morris has to prove he’s an NBA-ready player. Goudelock is primarily a shooter, so options on the roster are potentially limited.
If the moves can be made via trade exception, mini-MLE or trade, then so be it as long as it doesn’t harm the chance at Howard.
Luke Walton is the most likely Laker to get the Amnesty axe. Kupchak is going to make sure he fully understands every nuance of the CBA before acting on it.
One player the team would have interest in is Baron Davis, a possible Amnesty by the Cleveland Cavaliers. If Davis hits free agency (which may not happen, if he’s claimed via the Amnesty bidding process), keep in mind that Baron is overcoming a bad back that limited him significantly just a couple of months ago.
Would it make any sense to bring in a player like Gilbert Arenas if available? Another wild card in the deck.
The answer isn’t clear and may not be clear for most of the season. The Lakers may find their needs met in the next couple of weeks.
No one is going to have the answer before December 9th.
Laker fans want to see their team back in the NBA Finals winning titles. The Laker organization, on the cusp of a massive income increase from Time Warner Cable, needs to make sure they remain an elite franchise.
Whatever the outcome, at least the lockout is nearing an end . . .