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The 2018 NBA Trade Deadline is fast approaching with teams having just over two weeks to orchestrate deals before trades cutoff on February 8th. Certain teams will be “buyers” aimed at acquiring that missing piece, while others will fully commit to being “sellers” after a disappointing first half.
Even after winning their last seven out of nine games, the Los Angeles Lakers sit third in the Pacific Division and 11th in the Western Conference, a full six games behind the eight-seed Denver Nuggets.
With zero picks in the upcoming NBA draft and their eyes on the offseason, general manager Rob Pelinka and team president Magic Johnson have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks that could drastically affect their roster in the present and future.
Brandon Ingram has already been made unavailable by the front office and rookie sensations, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, are likely on that list as well. The team would love to find a suitor for Luol Deng, who still has three years and 54 million dollars remaining on his contract, but they will be hard-pressed to find another team to take back the last contract of the infamous Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak free-agency class.
Fourth-year players, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, seem to be the Lakers’ best options for making a deal. Both have been playing well over their last stretch of games but neither really fit in the team’s future. Clarkson is owed 37 million dollars over the next three seasons and Randle will likely be a free agent after this season.
While many options exist for each team and more information will come out closer to the deadline, here are five trades the Lakers should consider making:
1) Trade Clarkson, Randle for salary relief and potential draft pick
While this may not be the most attractive option for Lakers fans who are looking for the team to fill their void at backup, point-guard or make that big, mid-season, splash; this trade would do exactly what Pelinka has been preaching since he took over the general manager position – preserve cap space.
He has even gone so far to call it “sacred,” in this move the Lakers could ship out Clarkson and Randle to a handful of teams with the cap space to absorb their contracts and have the desire to get better. Another viable option is to engage in a three-team trade, where Clarkson and Randle would go to different teams and the Lakers receiving expiring contracts and draft picks in return.
The Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers all have the salary cap space to take on at least one of the players mentioned above and could use a young, talented player in their rebuild.
2) Trade Randle to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Nerlens Noel, possible draft pick
This trade is the least attractive for the Lakers because of how little upside it has. Swapping expiring contracts does not really move the needle this season for either team. However, the Mavericks are unlikely to resign Noel and have shown interest in Randle, who is a Dallas native, while the Lakers have not prioritized Randle and could look to get a draft pick back instead of losing him for nothing.
If everything works out this offseason like the front office wants, neither Noel nor Randle would be in the team’s plans. But if the Lakers fail to land both of their coveted free-agent targets, the team should eye at keeping one of their younger, emerging players.
Noel could anchor an up-and-coming Lakers defensive unit while being a rim-running big-man, who mainly contributes on the glass and catching alley-oop lobs from Lonzo Ball. Randle on the other hand is a double-double machine, who posses a rare combination of size and skill. The addition of a draft pick could make it interesting, but Randle seems to have a higher upside in a straight swap.
The front office should not be eager to trade away their former seventh overall pick and pursue other offers that are on the table.
3) Trade Clarkson and Randle to the Utah Jazz for Derrick Favors, Dante Exum
This is one of the most intriguing trade partners the Lakers could deal with. The Jazz currently sit one spot above them in the standings and are likely in a rebuild as well. Utah has a star in the making with rookie guard Donavan Mitchell developing faster than anyone anticipated and should build their team around his skillset.
The team seems to be committed to Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood, leaving Favors as the odd man out. His size, skillset and upside that caused him to be the third overall pick in 2010 are still there, but he has not developed anywhere near the star he was projected at. Averaging 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season.
Again, if the Lakers can only land one of their free agent targets this offseason, having Favors on the roster could fill a void left by the departure of Randle and Brook Lopez. If Pelinka could get the Jazz to throw in their injury-prone, former top-ten pick, backup point guard, Dante Exum, then the Lakers could fill two holes with relatively cheap players with decent potential.
4) Trade Clarkson, Randle and Ivica Zubac to the New Orleans Pelicans for Demarcus Cousins
Finally, the splash move everyone in Los Angeles wants the team to make, kind of. While one certain player in Oklahoma City isn’t walking through the doors just yet, a trade for Boogie Cousins would establish that the Lakers are back.
Cousins is arguably the best center in the league and has been putting up ridiculous stat lines lately, finishing with 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists against the Bulls earlier in the week. Having to part ways with three players who aren’t in the plans should be an easy decision for the front office, who can lure Cousins into a long-term deal by making him the man in LA.
The Pelicans are not eager to trade away one of their all-star big men while sitting in the sixth seed in the Western Conference but could be swayed if they are not confident in their abilities to resign Cousins in the offseason. Adding Clarkson and Randle would be immediate upgrades to players on their roster and stashing Zubac as a developing center could entice New Orleans to make a move.
5) Trade Clarkson to the Detroit Pistons for Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson. Roll the dice with Randle.
The best option for the Lakers could easily fly under the rumor radar, but this deal with the Pistons should check off every box for the front office and for fans. Pelinka gets to maintain his cap flexibility by getting rid off Clarkson’s contract and only taking back a rookie contract and an expiring contract.
Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton would get two players who fit into his system better than Clarkson did. While Detroit would get the scoring, combo guard they desperately need. Bradley could come in and defend each team’s best perimeter player and knock down open, three-pointers. Bradley currently averages 31 minutes a game and shoots almost 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Johnson, who was the eighth overall pick just three years ago, hasn’t developed into the player the Pistons thought he would be. However, a homecoming for Johnson, who is from Southern California could be a good fit for the young player.
The former Wildcat is playing the most of his career, with 27.4 minutes per game, but is only averaging 7.5 points and 3.7 rebounds a game. Johnson averaged 13.8 points per game in his only season at the University of Arizona in 2014.
Lastly, this deal would give the Lakers a little more time to determine if Randle is actually in their long-term plans. Only 23-years old, Randle has been impressive in his short career but could demand too large of a payday during free agency. If the Lakers fail in free agency, Randle should be a priority to keep on the roster. Randle has averaged 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds over his career.
Article by Matthew Kirkland
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