Lakers: Recent Playoff Push Makes Trade Deadline Interesting

A resurgence from the Los Angeles Lakers has set them up for a possible playoff berth for the first time in four years. Does this affect their plans for the trade deadline?

Coming into the 2016-17 season, expectations were relatively low for this Lakers squad. ESPN had them at 25 wins, an eight-win improvement from last season’s horrific 17-win season, while Bleacher Report was slightly more optimistic, capping the Lakers out at 27 wins.

Usually projections like this would spark outrage with Lakers fans, but even the fans knew that this season was going to be rough. A rookie head coach, a few kids and what is left of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng doesn’t scream “playoff team.” Or does it?

Luke Walton and the baby Lakers got off to a hot start, beating teams they were supposed to lose to like the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Westbrooks through October and November.

Unfortunately, December wasn’t  as kind to the Purple and Gold and playoff aspirations were all but gone. Eight game losing streaks and a plethora of injuries seemingly derailed a picture perfect start for the young bucks.

Now in mid-January, the Lakers (15-26) are two wins out of the Western Conference playoff picture and four losses away from being the worst team in the wild, wild west. Huh? The top tier teams in the west have been really good while the lower tier teams have been–well–lower tier.

What all of this means? The Lakers have a legitimate chance of cracking the playoffs this season and that might change the way the front office approaches February’s trade deadline.

In an interview with Mike Bresnahan on Spectrum SportsNet, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he doesn’t see the team making any moves before the deadline.

“I’d hate to look to do something with our younger players. I think our older players have given us great leadership,” Kupchak told Bresnahan. “Some guys are on one year contracts, which makes them more difficult to move. So, based on my feel for the league, I think it’s unlikely that we’ll do something.”

Another year where the Lakers stand pat at the deadline? Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

After all, the Lakers still have the highest scoring bench in the NBA, lead by Lou Williams who is posting a career-high 17.9 points per game while only averaging 24.4 minutes per game. The only other player in the NBA scoring at least 15 points per game while playing at most 25 minutes per game is Joel Embiid and he’s a unicorn. Insane.

The bench mob also includes Jordan Clarkson, who is putting up 13.8 points per game in his new bench role. Clarkson is in the top five in scoring among players that have played more than 30 games off the bench, only trailing Eric Gordon, Enes Kanter and–you guessed it–Lou Williams.

What would make the front office disrupt a team with the best bench in the league and one of the top 10 five-man lineups in the NBA? Playoffs.

“We’ll know more about our team within the next two or three weeks,” Kupchak said. “I mentioned earlier we’re not out of the playoff hunt.”

Does this mean the front office won’t make a trade unless something like, I don’t know, a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in four years arises? It certainly seems that way.

In fact, the Lakers were reportedly interested in acquiring a high-profile player this week before his name was taken off of the trade market, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:

Millsap can be a free agent this summer, and multiple teams – including Denver, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers – had an interest in making a deal for him, sources said.

A trade for the Atlanta Hawks All-Star would have likely included one of the Lakers’ young pieces, something Kupchak said he is reluctant in doing. However, a trade involving one or several of the Lakers’ veterans isn’t out of the question.

Lou Williams is just one of several players on the Lakers’ roster with relatively high trade value. Nick Young is also putting together quite an impressive season under head coach Luke Walton.

Nov 13, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young (0) dribbles in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Of players attempting at least six 3-pointers per game, Nick Young is second in the league in 3-point percentage (42.9), only trailing two-time NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry. Not impressed?

He’s also among the league leaders in 3-pointers made per game, putting him alongside names like James Harden, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry. Unless a team is willing to gut their roster, none of the aforementioned players are actually attainable via trade.

Young, on the other hand, very well could be.

The Cleveland Cavaliers just gave up a first-rounder for a 35-year-old (soon to be 36-year-old) Kyle Korver on an expiring contract. What would another contender give up for a player not only having a great shooting season, but one of the best shooting seasons in NBA history?

Young is only 31 years old and the $5.4 million he is due this season and next season shouldn’t be a hard contract to move. Pair that with Lou Williams’ $7 million contract and the Lakers have an attractive trade combo.

The Lakers still have all of January to figure out where the teams stands as far as playoff contention. If they’re in a position to compete for the eight seed with their current roster, then it’s unlikely LA does anything. However, if they’re just a move away from competing, expect there to be some calls made at the deadline.

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