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Welcome to the Rumor Mill, a place to talk about all the rumors, innuendo, and speculation about potential Lakers moves as we approach the trade deadline. In this space we’ll offer up links to reports, opinions on the speculation of the day, and anything else trade related that crosses our minds. This may or may not be a daily feature at FB&G, but we hope it can serve as a place to capture the craziness. As an aside, this feature will only run through the trade deadline this season. So, get comfortable but don’t unpack all your bags yet. ‘Cause just like the circus the trade deadline represents, this post will be on its way to the next town in a couple of weeks.

That on any given night (or afternoon) the 2011-12 Lakers are capable of overcoming even the stiffest competition is simultaneously thrilling and disconcerting.

Despite the occasional foray into disarray and the occasionally terrifying deficiency of on-court firepower, the Lakers carry on, not only trudging forward, but excelling. Given its composition –top-heavy, veteran-laden and deliberate with possession – this squad is clearly one built for postseason ball, where the significance of front-line size is magnified, and that of roster depth diminished.

However, the Lakers, winners of 23 of 37 games this season, including an almost-league-best (along with Miami, OKC and Memphis; Chicago is 9-1) eight of their last ten, find themselves a half game ahead of their Staples Center roomies in the Pacific (and for third in the West), two games behind the second place Spurs. They have won 17 of 19 at home, 16 of 23 against some rock-solid Western Conference opposition and, at 5-3 (the Clippers are 3-3) boast the Pacific’s best division record. Not bad for a team with little more than a passing interest in this regular season.

As impressive as it has been, we (well, management) must resist the urge to allow the Lakers’ success thus far in 2011-12 to mask a rather urgent need for reinforcements. Whether or not you feel a franchise-altering blockbuster is necessary – and if so, whether said blockbuster would entail bidding adieu to Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol –there is one deal to be made that will bolster this Lakers team, either in the form of an upgrade at the point or quality depth elsewhere (anywhere) on the roster.

As you are no doubt aware by now, in parting ways with Lamar Odom just days before the season tipped off, and received precious little in exchange, the Lakers acquired a traded player exception (TPE). In short a TPE resembles a “deferred multi-team trade,” allowing a team that is over the salary cap (as the Lakers are) to acquire like-priced talent at a future date (TPE’s often expire after a year) for a player dealt today. In the Lakers’ case, this TPE allows for the absorption of up to $9 million (Odom’s $8.9 million salary, plus $100,000, per CBA rules) worth of salary, with minimal loss of on-court productivity. Perhaps even more than the aforementioned blockbuster that would put pen to paper on the next chapter of the Lakers’ superstar legacy, this exception will play a vital role in determining whether these Lakers are able to realize their championship aspirations.

A few ideas regarding possible directions in which the Purple and Gold could go:

Ramon Sessions ($4.2M this season, $4.5M player option for 2012-13) for a 1st round pick

Sessions has been, and continues to be, one of the most logical cost-effective fixes available for Lakers’ most glaring weakness. He is not Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but Sessions is a young (26 in April), productive (15.4 points, 7.5 assists and just 3 turnovers per 36 minutes) NBA-caliber point guard that will solidify the already-dangerous Lakers’ status as a contender in the West.

One potential concern is that he will cost the Lakers some assets, and has the ability to void his deal this summer and will cost more to re-sign. Given the win-now mode in which the Lakers are firmly entrenched, this is more than a worthwhile risk. Plus, is Sessions arrives and plays well enough to gain any serious leverage in contract negotiations, chances are it’s been a pretty solid spring in Lakerland.

Francisco Garcia in exchange for a pair of 2nd round picks, with Sacramento taking on Luke Walton

Maybe not the first name that comes to mind, but ‘Cisco Garcia is a quality NBA veteran that can fill multiple roles for this team. He is a combo guard, but with a point guard lean, does not dominate the ball (20+ USG just once in six years) and historically has shown a nice touch from the outside (just 31% on 3-points this season, but at least 35.6% each of the past five, including 39%+ three times). In addition to easing the Lakers’ pain at the point, however, Garcia (who is 6’7”) would provided depth on the wing, either two spelling Kobe at the two or playing alongside him in three-guard/wing (with Matt Barnes, MWP, Goudelock or Blake) units.

Most importantly, this is a deal that makes sense financially as well. Garcia’s contract pays him $5.6 million this year, $6.1 million next season and has a $6.4 million team option for 2013-14. For the rebuilding Kings the acquisition of Luke Walton (who is making $5.6M this year and $6.1M next) is a cap neutral way to nab a pair of second-rounders without breaking a sweat.

Jason Thompson in exchange for a 2nd round pick (maybe a 1st rounder at gunpoint)

An interesting deadline sleeper. Depending on your perspective (I really like him) Thompson is potentially a fourth starter or excellent bench contributor going forward. Thompson has turned in a solid effort in relief of (and more recently starting alongside) DeMarcus Cousins, scoring in double figures 15 times, grabbing 8+ rebounds 14 times and posting six double-doubles despite seeing the floor for just 24 minutes per game.

Additionally, he is a restricted free agent this summer (qualifying offer is $4.1M, though he’ll likely command more), and with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins in line to get PAID in the summers of 2013 and 2014, $12M+ per year committed to Marcus Thornton and Chuck Hayes for the next four years and another lottery pick on the way, it’s unlikely that Sacramento will be committed to signing him long term.

Amir Johnson in exchange for a 2nd round pick (maybe just simple salary absorption)

Is Amir Johnson the difference between the Lakers and the Larry O’Brien trophy? Probably not. What he is, however, is a young (25 on May 1), athletic big that is productive (10-10), will hit the offensive boards (11.9 ORB Rate) and has range to (generously) 15 feet – in other words, quality depth.

Plus, the fact that he is signed to a lengthy, iffy-but-manageable ($6M, $6.5M, $7M next years) contract with a lotto-bound team set to welcome a pair of top-ten picks (2011’s #5 overall Jonas Valanciunas, plus an addition from the 2012 class) to next year’s squad will suppress the cost of acquiring him.

Paul Millsap in exchange for a 1st round pick

This is the dream scenario.

With Utah quickly fading from playoff contention, the development of the last two #3 overall picks will become a priority, as will showcasing Al Jefferson (owed a prorated portion of $14 million this year and $15 million next season) for (hopefully, if you are a Jazz fan) a future cap clearing deal.

From the Lakers’ perspective, Millsap is an ideal fit – an efficient offensive threat (22.62 APER on just 22.9 USG, per Hoopdata) and solid rebounder (22.2/11.4 ORB/DRB Rates) that is still fairly young, having just turned 27, and has the capacity to play All-Star caliber ball for prolonged stretches. What’s more, Millsap (owed the remainder of $6.7M this season, and $7.2M in 2012-13) is an ideal complement to the Lakers’ current front line, able to step outside (43.2% from 10-23’) when Bynum is in the paint and capable of banging down low (72.4% FG on 4.5 FGA at the rim) when Pau is operating on the wing.

Ok, guys, let’s fire up the mill! Who knows what coming days will bring for the Lakers, but these are my thoughts on possible ways to strengthen the team going forward. Looking forward to your feedback on these ideas, as well as any that you’ve been kicking around.

The Rumor Mill

Darius Soriano —  March 5, 2012

Welcome to the Rumor Mill, a place to talk about all the rumors, innuendo, and speculation about potential Lakers moves as we approach the trade deadline. In this space we’ll offer up links to reports, opinions on the speculation of the day, and anything else trade related that crosses our minds. This may or may not be a daily feature at FB&G, but we hope it can serve as a place to capture the craziness. As an aside, this feature will only run through the trade deadline this season. So, get comfortable but don’t unpack all your bags yet. ‘Cause just like the circus the trade deadline represents, this post will be on its way to the next town in a couple of weeks.

“The Lakers are in need of a point guard.” – Kurt Helin, ProBasketball Talk

Kurt’s not wrong, of course. The Lakers’ relative weakness at the PG spot has been well documented this season and last. And with Mike Brown’s hiring bringing a new system that requires more than a sideline entry and standing in the corner waiting for a spot up chance from its lead guard, the Lakers’ need for a more creative man at the “one” is on everyone’s minds.

If you clicked the link above, you’ll see that the Lakers are looking at rectifying this issue and are having “exploratory talks” with the Trailblazers about Raymond Felton. The full report is brief, but mentions Steve Blake as a player that would likely head back to Portland.

Of course, a straight swap of Blake for Felton doesn’t work (their salaries aren’t close enough in value with Felton making nearly double what Blake does) so there would have be other pieces involved (McRoberts’ salary would fill this gap, for example) or a more complex deal involving the Lakers’ TPE from the Odom trade with the Blazers sending an additional player (or more) back in the trade also possible.

For what it’s worth, the Blazers may be looking to dump other players, as a report now has them actively shopping Jamal Crawford. The Lakers aren’t listed as one of the teams showing interest in Crawford, but thinking about him on this team certainly is interesting. I mentioned before that a more complex trade could happen with the Odom TPE, and here’s an example that could work should the Lakers sweeten the deal with a draft pick. That’s the type of deal that gives the Lakers a viable PG and another wing option that allows the flexibility of playing Kobe at SF if neither Ron or Barnes are playing well.

Of course, all this is speculation to the nth degree. The latter scenario has the Lakers taking on over 5 million in salary this year (though potentially shedding payroll long term), something other reports have claimed they’d like to avoid.

Furthermore, any deal still comes with risks attached. Right now, chemistry is building with this team. And while their overall talent is still (likely) deficient, they are showing that real strides are being made. The players are starting to believe in themselves and their coaches and that’s an intangible that’s difficult to measure. I’m not saying the Lakers can go on a 2011 Mavs-like run, but I do know that many people picked the Mavs to lose every playoff series they played in mostly because their talent didn’t stack up. Four rounds later, they hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy. Again, not saying the Lakers can do this, but it’s fair to point out that these things have happened.

Going hand in hand with this question of chemistry is that time is short. Earlier today, hoops head and Lakers historian Roland Lazenby tweeted some ideas that were quite thought provoking:

Best case for the Lakers is to stay with Blake, see what happens down the stretch. No time to make anything else work in this short season. Biggest argument for the Lakers goes beyond point guards. Mike Brown has gotten this team to settle a bit finally. Not the time to mix it up. If another deal like the Chris Paul deal presents itself, yes, the Lakers will have to move. A middling deal in a short season? Nah. A deal in the middle of the year could trash Brown’s progress+break down confidence in him as a coach. Bad playoff loss could do the same. Debate over point guards+Lakers personnel could go on ad nauseum. That’s Jim+Mitch’s decision. Hard spot they’re in here with the choices.

Now the last point Lazenby made is a key one – the Lakers are in a tough spot. By the time the trade deadline comes, they’ll likely have choices at their disposal to either make a change or stand pat. Neither option guarantees the Lakers anything, and both offer pitfalls of coming up short and the repercussions of that.

Beyond what Lazenby said, though, there are also real X’s and O’s challenges that come with any trade. We’ve already said that PG is an important position in this offense, so what happens when it gets disrupted by a trade with only 30 (or less) games left to play? Can that new PG pick up the offensive schemes? Can he run the show with that much talent to keep in line at the top of the roster?

There are no assurances a trade helps. Of course, there are no assurances standing pat leads to the improvement many seek, either. There’s inherent risk in both options and both sides must be weighed.

All I know is, I’ll be happy when the deadline comes and goes and we can find out what this team will be when it’s all said and done. With the team playing well now it’s harder to see a move happening, but at the same time, it’s times like those – when the deal comes out of no where – that are both the most and least surprising. Especially with the Lakers.

The Rumor Mill

Darius Soriano —  March 2, 2012

Welcome to the Rumor Mill, a place to talk about all the rumors, innuendo, and speculation about potential Lakers moves as we approach the trade deadline. In this space we’ll offer up links to reports, opinions on the speculation of the day, and anything else trade related that crosses our minds. This may or may not be a daily feature at FB&G, but we hope it can serve as a place to capture the craziness. As an aside, this feature will only run through the trade deadline this season. So, get comfortable but don’t unpack all your bags yet. ‘Cause just like the circus the trade deadline represents, this post will be on its way to the next town in a couple of weeks. On to our first installment…

As we touched on yesterday, the Lakers are obviously looking to improve their roster. There have been whispers that their front office has been one of the most active in making calls around the league, seeking out trade partners to try and improve their team to make another push to compete for a championship.

The most recent rumor (as cited in the linked post above) was the Lakers turning down a deal for Michael Beasley that would have surrendered two first round picks in exchange for the mercurial small forward. The Lakers would have simply absorbed Beasley’s 6.2 million dollar contract via the trade exception they received in the Lamar Odom trade.

There are several issues with this type of trade if you’re the Lakers and, to me, it’s no wonder this deal – if that’s what was really on the table – was turned down. First and foremost is that it surrenders every single asset the Lakers have at their disposal outside of their big three. This upcoming draft is thought to be one of the better ones in years due to several potential one and done college players that are likely to declare as well as other talented collegians that didn’t declare for the last draft due to the lockout. By surrendering their own 1st round pick as well as the pick that they will receive from the Mavericks (top 20 protected), the Lakers opt out of a potentially rich draft. Plus, by giving up their TPE the Lakers would have used their only other means to improve their roster without breaking up their core. By any measure, that’s too much for a player of Beasley’s quality.

Second, this trade has the Lakers take on Beasley’s full contract without sending any salary out. As stated above, Beasley earns 6.2 million dollars this season. While his contract is pro-rated due to the lockout and the Lakers would only be picking up the remainder of what he’s owed this season, they still must pay out luxury tax payments on what they pay him. That means whatever he makes from the Lakers that figure is actually doubled. When you factor in that plus the assents surrendered, it’s simply not a good deal from the Lakers standpoint and it’s much easier to understand why this deal wouldn’t have been made.

What would make more sense is if the Lakers were able to dump some salary on the T’Wolves while also limiting their use of some of their assets. This scenario is exactly what Eric Pincus is reporting at Hoopsworld:

A league source tells HOOPSWORLD the Lakers may have an alternate package that might work for Beasley while preserving their exception. If LA would surrender two first-round picks, the Wolves could swap Beasley for seldom-used forward Luke Walton. The Lakers have two selections in the upcoming draft (their own and a protected first from the Dallas Mavericks).  LA would be able to send both from 2012 or just one and a future pick in 2014.

Now, would the Lakers still give up two first rounders for Beasley? Would getting Walton off their books be enough for that? I’m not sure (though I’m dubious). This scenario would relieve the Lakers of having to use their TPE (an asset that could then be used on a PG, presumably) but if adding salary is really a concern why would the Lakers not want to use the TPE on Beasley but then use it on another player after adding Beasley another way? That’s not something that adds up to me based off the way the original story about Beasley to the Lakers was reported.

Ultimately, I don’t think a deal for Beasley is one that’s on the front burner as the Lakers are still likely holding their assets until the Dwight Howard domino falls. At that point, the Lakers may have a new franchise Center or will need to move onto other plans that help fortify their team. In any event, though, it seems the Lakers are still looking at big moves first with smaller ones being prioritized lower.