As we begin to enter the ‘wheeling and dealing’ phase of the shortest NBA off season ever I thought it would be fun to juxtapose the trade scenarios with some reasons why I think we should hold onto some of our key contributors not named Anthony Davis or LeBron James. While some of these players may end up elsewhere, in this opionators opinion that we should do what we can to retain their services.
- Rajon Rondo. The obvious first choice. He may only play for 1/3 to 1/2 the regular season, may take careless risks in the regular season and his superpower is laregly rendered moot during the regular season. While I believe the moniker “Playoff Rondo” to be both overly simplistic and factually incorrect (I prefer Hyper-Prepared Rondo, lol) there is no denying his impact in a 7 game series. Furthermore, he’s the perfect backup point guard to pair with LeBron and Davis. He doesn’t need to score. Ever. His impact is not in the amount of points he scores but rather the points he creates for others. The buckets he scores are the cherry on top. His ability to be a coach on the floor, bringing the guys together during foul shots, and allowing LeBron to take on a off-ball roll are all instrumental to the Lakers success.
- Alex Caruso coming in hot right behind Rondo. There’s a Wall Street Journal story about the pairing of Caruso and James. Together they have +18.6 points per 100 possessions. The other HOF and All Star teammates LeBron has played with that reached that number? Z-E-R-O. Not Kyrie, not Wade, not Davis, Bosh or Love. Nobody. The tandem of James and Caruso was more devastating than the hyped pick and roll we hoped to see from LBJ and AD. You don’t trade that weapon away for a player of unknown impact or for an expensive HOF/All Star that needs the ball. Certainly not for Jrue Holiday. No offense to any other player in the NBA but it takes a certain amount of selflessness, smarts and physical gifts that few possess to succeed at that level playing with a star like LeBron. Putting selflessness first was not by chance, it defines Caruso as a player. he doesn’t need the ball to score, hits enough threes to keep defenders kind of honest and is an excellent off-ball cutter. James and Rondo both rely on those kinds of players to rack up assists and open the floor for drives. The funny thing is it sort of took Avery Bradley opting out of the Bubble for Caruso to truly shine which begs the following question: if Bradley opts in and with Caruso under contract, where does that leave us with Rajon Rondo and KCP in free agency?
- Kyle Kuzma. I know, this one looks a little odd to me, too. But here’s my line of thinking. Yes, the Lakers are a mega-earning powerhouse sports franchise. Yes the Lakers are known to value superstar wattage to solid production from role players. Yes Kyle Kuzma had an up and down season and regressed (again) from the three point line. But he was our 3rd leading scorer in the regular season and only .7 points behind KCP in points per game in the playoffs. His defense, play making and ability to do things other than score to help the team all took steps forward, especially his defense. On top of all that Kyle is cheap this year ($3.5 mil for 2020-21) and cheap in terms of QO/cap hit in the year of Giannis ($5.2 mil, but with an $8.9 mil cap hit until signed). This is significant for a variety of reasons. Cheap, impactful talent is 24 karat solid gold for an NBA GM. You want to avoid triggering the hard cap at any and all costs and Kuzma keeps improving every year in multiple ways. If he can regain anything close to the touch he showed as a rookie we will have a player that can start or have tremendous impact coming off the bench. The Caruso Rule applies here, as well: unless you’re bringing back the perfect fit of a player for both AD and LeBron, and there aren’t many, stick with what worked and let it improve even more. A 5-10% overall improvement in Kuzma’s game puts him in similar categories to a lot of the players we theorize trading Kyle for but at a fraction of the cost.
- Dwight Howard. This one depends a lot on what late-career Dwight is looking for. Money? Guaranteed starting spot? Larger role on offense? Rings? if it’s the last one my hope is he can find a way to return to LA on a cheap deal, we won’t be able to offer him a deal that represents his true value to the team. While he may not be the Dwight of old (and has been taking some heat from his family on social media for his Dad skills) he was invaluable in some of our playoff series wins. The pressure he puts on the defensive rebounding of our opposition is elite, his rolls to the rim are effective and he still has great defensive timing when he challenges shots. While I wouldn’t consider moving players in order to free ups space to offer him more money I would consider offering him a deal early in free agency that was a raise over his pittance he played for last season.
- This one will be controversial but I’ve done some crunching and it’s hard to dispute his impact: keeping Danny Green even if it means we don’t sign KCP.. I know, I know…he’s over-priced based on his box score stats. But if one is being honest and looks at the deeper numbers Green’s impact on the Lakers on both ends of the floor was essential to the success of the team. Green is tossed into trades because of the need to fill salary while chasing other team’s superstars and the gaps are filled in, often with some of the players mentioned above. But, for one second, let’s say we don’t shoot for an unnecessary home run, after all we did just win the NBA championship and almost as impressive earn the best record in the West. Green’s shooting opens the floor, even when he misses, because he has shown a knack for hitting big shots, going on streaks from three and making the defense pay for forgetting him. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, a key reason I would choose keeping Green rather than potentially breaking the bank to keep UFA Caldwell-Pope and he’s solid on defense. The one thing that makes me lean more to the KCP side of things, should it come down to trading Green to clear space to resign Pope and not get hard capped.
There are some controversial notions above, I admit, furthermore the Lakers may feel entirely differently than I do. I don’t work for the Los Angeles Lakers under Rob Pelinka so I can’t say with any certainty whatsoever how they evaluate their current players or juxtapose the roster with what they think they can trade for. For my part,as an observer and opionator, I can’t think of a player that we can trade for that will bring back the impact of Caruso for the cost of the player. They just don’t exist. Another superstar will see limited touches and role if they’re a guard or ball handling forward, that’s LeBron’s role for at least another year, possibly many more. But there’s also a line of thinking that says we should start building for the future. For my part I firmly believe that both Kuzma and Caruso can be a part of that. Of course if once-in-a-lifetime trade presents itself and one or both are the coveted assets then you make that deal. That’s not Chris Paul, at least not to me. Jrue Holidy is the better fit and we should not include Caruso in that deal, we have other assets I’m far more willing to part with.
The last point I’ll make on all of this is why I didn’t include KCP or Markieff Morris as a top-five keeper. While I valued their contributions and both played very well in the playoffs I think we have the players to absorb their loss. I’m assuming Avery Bradley opts in. Frankly, that makes Pope an un-affordable extravagance. He played well in the playoffs, and was instrumental in the NBA Finals but he and Bradley’s skill sets overlap and, frankly, Avery is the better player. He’s as good of a defender, if not better. He’s just as good a scorer and less apt to make silly plays (I have a standing rule that KCP is good for one bone-headed pass/game and he generally meets that standard, that’s not a knock just a reality the player has created via their play). So, if Bradley opts in we’re good at the off-guard spot. The reasoning for Markieff is twofold: I’d rather keep Dwight and stay away from Hard Cap land and I’d think THT can bring the same impact. That last point is highly debatable but he was solid in his playoff showing, great in the G-League and with the success of so many of our developmental league players I’d just as soon bet on that than potentially having to over-pay or use an Exception to keep Morris.
If you’re interested in a quick tutorial on what triggers the Hard Cap and what that means this is helpful: https://basketball.realgm.com/article/241253/CBA-Encyclopedia-Hard-Cap
If you’re curious about our current cap situation, check this site out: https://www.spotrac.com/nba/los-angeles-lakers/cap/