The Los Angeles Lakers will extend their franchise record for missing the playoffs to four straight seasons. That does not make any of the moves that the Lakers do or do not make prior to the February 23 trade deadline any less important.
Los Angeles (19-39) enter the NBA’s All-Star beak with the third-worst record in the league. The Lakers are 3-7 in their last 10 games, and just 9-29 after getting off to a promising 10-10 start. The Lakers are a game ahead of the Phoenix Suns, who have the second-worst record at 18-39, and two games behind the Orlando Magic (21-37). They are also three games behind the Philadelphia 76ers (21-35) and Dallas Mavericks (22-34). These are important facts
If Los Angeles finishes with one of the three worst records in the league, they will have a greater chance of keeping their 2017 first-round draft choice. The Lakers dealt the draft pick, which is top-three protected, to the Suns as part of the 2013 trade that brought Steve Nash to Los Angeles. The 76ers currently own the Lakers’ pick as a result of a three-team trade with the Suns and Milwaukee Bucks that involved Michael Carter-Williams going to the Bucks during the 2014-15 season.
As it stands now, Los Angeles has a 46.9 percent chance of keeping the selection according to Tankathon. The Lakers have a 15.6 percent chance of obtaining the top overall pick in the draft, 15.7 percent chance of picking second, and 15.6 percent chance of selecting third. That still means that the Lakers have 53.1 percent chance of losing the pick. In fact, they have the greatest chance of finishing with the No. 5 overall pick (26.5 percent). Which may be the reason that the Lakers may look to deal a couple of veterans, per ESPN insider Amir Elhassan.
“Absolutely,” Elhassan wrote when talking about whether the Lakers should trade Nick Young and Lou Williams. “Both guys have done their part by playing up their value with good seasons, and it’s obvious that the postseason is not a realistic goal this season. Rather, the Lakers keeping their top-three protected pick is more important than ever, and getting rid of two guys who make the team more competitive is a good strategy. And they do have actual value on the trade market as productive vets on extremely cost-effective deals.”
Williams has been wonderful off the bench for the Lakers, who lead the NBA in bench scoring. The 30-year-old combo guard is having the best season of his career, averaging a career-high 18.6 points while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and a career-best 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. He has scored at least 20 points, 25 times this season.
Young has bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2015-2016 season. The 31-year-old wing is third on the team in scoring with 13.7 points a game as he has knocked down a career-high 2.9 triples while shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc — which is a career-best.
Alex Kennedy of Hoop Hype believes that the Cleveland Cavaliers would be an ideal landing spot for Williams. In the meanwhile, Bradford Doolittle of ESPN proposed an intriguing trade that would send Williams and Luol Deng to the Sacramento Kings for Rudy Gay, Garrett Temple, and future draft considerations.
Sacramento (24-33) is in the mix for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Kings are one-and-a-half games behind the eighth place Denver Nuggets (25-31). They have not made the playoffs since the 2006-07 season.
The Kings have a lot of areas that need improvement though their biggest needs are a scorer, three-point shooting, and depth on the wing. Williams and Deng would give them exactly what they are looking for. Deng, who has seen his offensive production decline the past two years, can still knock down an occasional three-pointer. Sacramento ranks 13th in the league in three-point percentage and 18th in three-pointers made a game. The problem is that center DeMarcus Cousins leads the team with 1.7 triples a game and power forward Anthony Toliver is second with 1.4 triples a contest.
The trade would likely help the Lakers in their goal of keeping their 2017 first-round selection. Gay is currently out for the season with an Achilles injury while Temple has missed the last seven contests with a hamstring tear. Gay has a player option for next year while Temple has two more years on his contract.
So will the Lakers make a move prior to the trade deadline?
Mitch Kupchack recently told Tania Gangulia of the Los Angeles Times that the Lakers are always active in looking to improve the team, but their growing number of trade assets has created more opportunities this year.
“Quite frankly, compared to the last three or four years, we have a lot of talent on this roster that I think a lot of people have interest in — varying levels of interest,” Kupchak said. “I would think there’s more meaningful discussions this year than there have been the last two or three years.”
In addition to Young, Deng, and Williams, the Lakers could also possibly look to deal Timofey Mozgov along with Jordan Clarkson. Both Mozgov and Clarkson have been disappointments this year. Mozgov, who signed with the team this summer for $64 million for four years, is a bad fit with the team. Clarkson is a quality scorer but struggles with efficiency and on the defensive end.
[Featured Image by Jae C. Hong/AP Images]