The Los Angeles Lakers are currently 10th in the West, two games behind the Utah Jazz for 8th with a 10-15 record. But that could easily be 12-13 or 13-12 if they had not blown games such the like against the Clippers, Warriors, and Nuggets. They are on a modest two-game win streak and are in the midst of a brutal stretch; a stretch that can knock them out of the playoff picture altogether.
Whether things do start to fall apart or not, Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson should be looking around to make some trades as the season wanes on. The Lakers are a rather youthful team with not many established veterans worth of significant value. What they do have though are three expiring contracts in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brook Lopez, and Corey Brewer. The first two are quality NBA starting-caliber players, and the third makes for a solid veteran role player. And expiring are one of the four most valuable trade assets in basketball along with an established star, first-round draft pick, and the combination of youth and potential (a young star in the making).
Trading Pope would not make much sense as he is only 24, averaging 13.7 points (16.6 per game over the last ten), a good defender and valuable backcourt depth. His 41.8% field goal shooting isn’t where you would like it, but when he’s on, he’s shown to be able to carry the Lakers, and he is shooting an above-average 37% from three.
But if it does come to that, he would make a terrific addition to a playoff team looking for a wing player to complement a strong post game without having to be the number one or two option. An organization such as the New Orleans Pelicans would seem ideal, as they have arguably the two best big men (definitely the best 4-5 combo) in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
What they are lacking are good shooters and another perimeter player to help point guard Jrue Holiday break things down on the perimeter. If a team like them comes calling and the price is right, the Lakers should pull the trigger if they are out of contention. If not then hold onto him because he will most likely be a significant reason as to why they’d be winning. Ever since his arrival, the defense has had a new energy surrounding it and, because he’s known as a good defender, he guards the opposition’s best perimeter player.
But a veteran they should not be scared to move, regardless of standings, is center Brook Lopez. He was supposed to be the focal point and go-to scorer for an offense that has lacked one since Kobe Bryant. As a guy who can average 20 points per game, the Lakers were getting a big man with a post game you can build your offense around and help out the younger guys.
But he has been a significant disappointment. It’s not that he cannot play; he just does not seem to fit into the system that well. He is averaging about seven fewer minutes than last season but is still putting us similar but worse per-36 numbers and in a more inefficient way. His field goal percentage is down to 44.6%, which is terrible fora interior-based players, and three-point shooting is down to 30.7%.
He came to the team lauded as a big man who can stretch the floor, after adding the three-point shot to his arsenal. But in reality, he shot only 34.6%, which isn’t bad for a big man; just nothing to praise too heavily. He was expected to help a terrible three-point shooting team. But nope, they are still the worst in the league.
He has definitely helped on defense, but he is also surrounded by superior defenders than he was in Brooklyn. Take away his three-game stretch where he combined for 82 points and ten threes against the Trailblazers, Nets, and Grizzlies; his numbers don’t look that impressive. He causes the offense to be stagnant when it shouldn’t.
It would be better, for both parties, if he were to be shipped off, preferably to a contender who needs an interior scorer and/or a team that has a system that would fit him well. And as a former All-Star, and career 18.4 ppg scorer, combined with his expiring contract, he makes for an attractive option for a team in need of a good interior presence.
And the Lakers have depth in the frontcourt. None of them are seven feet tall, but they can play center during small-ball and deserve more playing time. I am talking about Kyle Kuzma, Larry Nance Jr., and Julius Randle. Only one of them is starting at the moment, when two of the should, allowing more minutes for the trio.
And you still have a seven-foot insurance policy in Andrew Bogut if need be. It’s just that Lopez isn’t needed as we once thought and the Lakers should get what they can before he walks. Same with Pope if they are out of the playoff race. Los Angeles should not risk losing both of them for naught once they become free agents next summer. Get more draft picks or younger players or veterans that would fit Luke Walton’s system well.
They need to see what they can add on before the duo’s departure. Trading Pope would be harder because you can still sign him long-term because of his age, especially if you move contracts such as Jordan Clarkson and Luol Deng. Brook Lopez makes more sense.