Heading into Wednesday’s slate of games, the Lakers find themselves sitting fourth in the Western Conference at 28-16 overall behind only the Jazz (31-11), Suns (29-13) and Clippers (28-16; hold tiebreaker over Lakers). Not a bad place to be more than halfway through the 2020-21 season, right?
Well, the road ahead could get a little bumpy. With LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) both sidelined for extended periods as they recover from injuries, Los Angeles could struggle in the short term and drop down the West standings.
General manager and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka will attempt to give the team some help ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, but the Lakers have limited assets and are facing significant financial constraints.
In terms of draft assets, the Lakers hold a 2027 first-round pick and four future second-round picks. The cupboard is bare because they unloaded almost everything in order to acquire Davis in 2019. (That trade worked out just fine.)
Los Angeles could make Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and/or Talen Horton-Tucker available. (It’s worth noting all of those guys are Klutch Sports clients.) Horton-Tucker is the most intriguing player in that group, as he is 20 years old and has taken on a larger role this season.
“The piece that [the Lakers] have that they may be willing to move is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope,” Brian Windhorst recently said on “The Hoop Collective” podcast. “The piece that teams want is Talen Horton-Tucker, who’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year. I don’t know whether you cash that in at this point.” One other thing to keep in mind before heading to the trade machine: Given the Lakers are only $1.5 million below the hard cap, they have to closely examine the incoming and outgoing salaries in any deal.
The Cavaliers have been determined to get something in return for Drummond, who last played for Cleveland on Feb. 12. It will be a struggle to find a workable deal, though, because of Drummond’s contract ($28.7 million for 2020-21). Multiple reports have pegged the Lakers as the favorites to sign Drummond if the Cavs fail to finalize a trade and eventually agree to a buyout.
Drummond is averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game this season, but he clearly doesn’t fit into Cleveland’s future plans. He would be a welcome addition in LA.
Aldridge is another big man who fell out of the rotation and is searching for a new home. The seven-time All-Star is also a possible buyout candidate for the Lakers, but there’s a “growing belief” that the Heat are the leaders to land Aldridge. Of course, the priorities for each team could change in the coming days depending on other moves. It will be worth monitoring Aldridge’s situation.
The Lakers, Clippers and 76ers have all expressed interest in Hill, according to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. A Western Conference official told Fischer that the Thunder are willing to “take back and trade salary for draft compensation.”
It would be a surprise to see Oklahoma City reach a buyout agreement with Hill considering general manager Sam Presti’s love of draft picks. Perhaps Los Angeles would be willing to let go of a second-rounder so it can bring in one of James’ old teammates.
A Drummond backup plan? Whiteside could be just that for the Lakers.
While the veteran center isn’t exactly an exciting name, he would at least offer some frontcourt depth for a team that is looking pretty small at the moment.
It’s important to keep in mind that the Lakers are not desperate. Even if they do slide in the standings, the Lakers know it will be difficult to take them down in the playoffs with their squad at full strength.
Will Los Angeles go all-in with its assets and send NBA Twitter into a frenzy on deadline day? Eh, probably not.
Could the Lakers work along the fringes and find a useful player as they chase back-to-back championships? Certainly.