Through Jan. 8, the Los Angeles Lakers have proven to be one of the league’s best teams and a legitimate title contender, with a 30-7 record and the NBA’s No. 2 net rating (+7.7).
They may be 0-3 in their three highest-profile games, two against their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, and one versus the Milwaukee Bucks, which came on the road for L.A., but regardless, all the Lakers really need to do is tighten up the edges of their rotation rather than make a wholesale change.
Considering the Lakers are clearly one of the league’s elite teams this season, there’s not much they necessarily need, but if we had to nitpick, there is maybe one hole Los Angeles could stand to fill, and that’s to find another backup ball-handler.
With LeBron James starting as the team’s de facto point guard, the role of primary back-up ball-handler/playmaker has gone to Rajon Rondo, who has, for the most part, struggled this season. Rondo is averaging 7.0 points and 5.4 assists nightly, shooting just over 40 percent from the floor and, worst of all, the Lakers are 6.5 points per 100 possessions worse when he’s in the game.
An upgrade at backup point guard could provide the Lakers with a huge boost towards their title chances.
Besides that, another big man who can space the floor could be a good target for Los Angeles (or any contender, really), especially if they do end up trading the player we’re about to discuss. DeMarcus Cousins could have been that player, but he’s likely to miss the rest of the season, though there’s apparently a chance he could return late in the campaign.
POTENTIAL TRADE CANDIDATES
The likeliest trade candidate on the Lakers’ roster appears to be Kyle Kuzma, who has been bandied about a good amount over recent weeks.
Kuzma being available for a swap makes sense, because although many thought he could blossom into the third member of L.A.’s new Big 3, multiple injuries and difficulty acclimating with his role have stymied the Utah product’s development, and he’s currently posting arguably his worst season, averaging just 12 points per game and shooting a mediocre 34.6 percent from beyond the arc.
A change of scenery could benefit Kuzma, as well as help the Lakers land either a win-now veteran or a player who fits better on their roster.
POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS
There have been a few players to have their names attached to the Lakers in trade rumors over recent weeks.
Most recently, Los Angeles was rumored to be interested in Washington Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans, who is having a career season, averaging 15.4 points per game and shooting 43.4 percent from three. Another floor-spacing big man, Marcus Morris has also been mentioned multiple times as a player of interest for the Lakers, though he won’t come cheap, considering he’s the New York Knicks’ best player this season. Perhaps Kuzma and a draft pick could intrigue New York in a potential swap for Morris.
The Lakers have also been rumored to have interest in two ball-handlers: DJ Augustin from the Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies swingman Andre Iguodala. Augustin would provide an immediate upgrade over Rondo at backup point guard, as his career 38 percent outside shooting mark would mesh nicely with what Los Angeles needs. Iguodala, meanwhile, would be a different kind of backup ball-handler, but a very valuable one nonetheless. The 2015 Finals MVP proved during last year’s playoff run for the Golden State Warriors that he’s got enough left in the tank to impact games late in the postseason. Also, his defensive prowess could come in handy against the Clippers’ monster wing duo, should the two L.A. teams face off in the playoffs as many expect.
Other potential trade targets who would make sense for the Lakers but haven’t been rumored about as much include: Evan Turner, Jeff Teague, Ish Smith, Wayne Ellington, Rudy Gay, Dario Saric and Marvin Williams.
The Lakers are restricted from two players they currently have rostered: two-way player Davontae Cacock and backup guard Alex Caruso. The former can’t be traded until Jan. 11 while the latter can’t be dealt until Jan. 15.
Additionally, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo all have no-trade clauses on their contracts, so they would have to approve any deal.
Finally, the Lakers cannot acquire Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Mo Wagner or Isaac Bonga, due to the fact they traded all of those players over the summer.
Draft picks are considered the most premium assets teams can send out, or acquire, in trades. After acquiring Anthony Davis, the Lakers are running low in draft capital, which could make coming to terms on trades a tad more difficult for them this season.
As of now, Los Angeles doesn’t have a first-round pick they can trade until 2026, unless they can get a team to accept their 2021 first-round pick with a 9-30 protection on it, meaning it would have to land in the Top 8 to actually transfer (not happening), or a second-round pick at all until 2023.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.