A large section of Lakers’ fans are only concerned about two things: how many losses the team has and how can they attain more of them. We have been over this multiple times, but it bears repeating — the more losses the team has, the better chance they have of keeping their draft pick which, in turn, offers a better chance of turning that asset into a cornerstone player who can help catapult the team back into contention sooner.
One way to get to more losses is to make trades that strip the team of some of their better players. The benefit of such deals would go beyond worsening the team — and increasing the odds of the aforementioned draft pick — they would also, hopefully, bring in even more assets that could help accelerate the current rebuild. Flip rotation player X for a draft pick; unload player Y for a young player on a rookie scale contract, is how this logic goes.
Whether or not you agree with the rooting for losses part of this story, the concept of dealing players for assets who can better help in the future is sound and a tried and true way of doing business in this league. This season, it has already started. The Denver Nuggets traded Timofey Mozgov to the Cavs for two future first round draft picks. The Celtics have been very active, first trading Rajon Rondo to the Mavs for draft picks and then off-loading players received in that deal (and others) to the Suns and Clippers for even more picks.
Again, this is not new. The question Lakers’ fans have, however, is when will they join the party? I mean, the Lakers may be a bad team, but they have some useful players who other teams might want, right? Right? Honestly, I’m not so sure.
That was me, musing on twitter earlier. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a fair amount lately, especially as the deadline for which Jordan Hill became tradable approached and passed (January 15th). The thought has long been that the Lakers, who were only playoff contenders in the world where everything went right for them and a lot of things went wrong for many other Western Conference teams, would start to sell off assets once the reality set in that they really were not going to make the playoffs this season.
However, in order to be a seller another team has to be willing to buy what you are offering. And, as I noted above, I’m wondering of opposing front offices really value the Lakers’ assets the way some fans might or even how much the Lakers’ front office might. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on 3 key players mentioned most when discussing potential trades with a focus on differences in their perceived value and what the alternative view might be:
1. Jordan Hill: We all know that Hill is. He remains one of the better rate rebounders in the league, especially on the offensive glass. He can finish well enough inside, has shown flashes of being able to hit the mid-range jumper, and can bring energy and hustle in bursts. He makes $9 million dollars this year and has a team option for next year. Hill could certainly help a playoff team as a third big who, like, say, Taj Gibson of the Bulls, can do good work on the glass provide some decent defense (well below Taj’s standard, here), and even close some games if his jumper is falling and he’s got enough in the tank to play out the stretch hard.
In saying this, though, Hill’s contract complicates any trade. Due to the fact that he loses his Bird Rights if dealt, Hill has to agree to any trade he’s a part of. The only way to remove this de-facto no trade clause is if the Lakers pick up his team option before trading him. Said another way, if you want to deal Hill you either need his permission or you need to guarantee his full $9 million salary for next season. Forgetting for a moment whether you think Hill is worth that much money, most teams want one of two things from a player they are trading for: a guy who is on an expiring contract or a player with multiple years on his contract*. Hill is neither of those things. And, honestly, I think that might really affect his value on the trade market.
2. Jeremy Lin: I don’t necessarily think Lin has gotten the fairest shake in L.A. He’s clearly a better player than Ronnie Price, but lost his starting job for a quarter of the season and is one of the few players who is consistently negatively called out by his head coach. Even when he’s played well, he’s not always closed games and there has been more than one occasion where you have to wonder if the coach simply doesn’t like him (the latest being where Scott intimated he thought Jeremy was soft). When it comes right down to it, Lin should have been starting since day one and likely should have been even more encouraged than he was — and I mean this via actual X’s and O’s and not just talk — to take control of the offense by running more pick and rolls and pushing the pace as much as possible. He is a good player — better than he’s shown, I think — but he has clearly not been given much of the royal jelly that could, potentially, bring out the best in him.
In saying all that, when evaluating Lin’s potential trade value, two things go against him. The first is his contract. Lin’s cap figure is $8.3 million, but he is actually being paid almost $15 million this season. That salary quirk is how the Rockets were able to pry him loose from the Knicks in free agency and is also a reason why the Rockets had to sweeten their offer to the Lakers with a first round pick in the trade that sent him to Los Angeles this past July. It’s what will also complicate any trade because any team that trades for him will need to be ready to fork over heftier pay checks than his cap hit would imply. For a team like the Lakers (who print money) that’s not a problem. But if you’re a team who doesn’t swim in profits, that might be an issue.
Second, Lin plays the deepest position in the league and isn’t going to be a better option than the starting point guards a lot of teams already have. This will be especially true when you’re talking about a contending team. So, when you trade for Lin, the odds are you are trading for a backup. In theory, this is fine — he’d be a damn good back up for a lot of teams. But when combining what his salary is with what role he’s likely to play that changes the equation. If you’re a contending team, do you trade a real asset for the right to pay a back up point guard — even a potentially really good one — $7 million over the second half of the season?
3. Ed Davis. First off, I know what you’re thinking. We don’t want to trade Ed Davis! He’s cheap! He’s productive!! We want Davis back next year!!! I get that. But for the purpose of evaluating trade assets, it would seem that Davis is one of the better ones the Lakers have. After all, he’s cheap and productive. And while he has some holes in his game, his value on the floor goes well beyond what he’s being paid. This is someone who the team should be able to get something for! Right? #wellactually…
As a minimum salaried player, Davis has zero function as a stand alone trade asset. The only type of contract you can trade him for is another minimum salaried player or a player on a late first round or second round rookie scale contract. These aren’t players who are likely to be as good or valuable to the Lakers as a future piece than Davis is. This, of course, leads to the idea of someone trading a draft pick for Davis. The issue there, however, is that Davis has a player option for his contract next year and will almost surely not exercise it in order to become a free agent. After the year he’s having, Davis could likely fetch the full mid-level exception on the open market and maybe even more than that. If you’re a team trading for him, do you really surrender a first round pick for a half season of Ed Davis and the right to compete for him in free agency come July?
This might seem like I’m down on the Lakers’ trade assets. I am not. I think Hill, Lin, or Davis could help several teams out there. Without getting into details or speculating, I have hopped on the trade machine and found new homes for all of them where I think they would make the type of impact that could help their new teams make deeper playoff runs. However, the reality is that trades in this league happen for a variety of reasons but often don’t happen for even more of them. And while the Lakers’ assets may be good ones, there are real barriers that could hold them up.
In other words, you may want the Lakers to make a deal (or more) before the February deadline. They may even want to make one. By many accounts, they actually have already been trying to. But, if nothing actually goes down, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
*It might seem counter-intuitive to think teams want players with long term deals, but a deal like Hill’s — where he can be a free agent next summer — can often be a headache for a team. Next summer Hill will be a free agent and whatever team that has him has to think about whether they want to invest in him further or not. If it’s not, they need to consider trading him again or risk having him walk in free agency for nothing. If you let him walk, you just surrendered real assets in a trade for the right to pay a player $9 million and then have him go away with no return. That’s not what we call getting value.