Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.
How the Lakers avoided the worst trade since the Garnett-Pierce heist.
On Thursday night, the Lakers were incredibly lucky while in Boston.
Down 124–121 with 55 seconds left in the game, LeBron had lost control of the ball as it headed out of bounds. He jumped out of bounds to regain control of the ball and threw it down toward the court, hoping it would bounce of the legs of one of the two defenders who had been guarding him. Somehow, they parted like the Red Sea, and the ball hit the floor and bounced toward Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who was standing behind the three point line, some 25 feet away. KCP jumped up to grab the quasi rebound and threw a pass back to LeBron in the corner, where he drained a heavily contested, fall away three pointer to tie the score. After an exchange of scores, Boston led by one point with 11.5 seconds to go. Brandon Ingram drove under the basket for a reverse layuup. Al Horford jumped up hitting the net and then blocked the shot. My heart sank because I knew they would never call goaltending on this play. But in the ensuing mad scramble for the loose ball, former Celtic Rajon Rondo grabbed the ball and hit the game winning shot just before the clock ran out.
The real luck was having Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram in uniform because they avoided a trade that would have ruined the team’s future.
According to various NBA sources, the Lakers had offered Lonzo Ball, Kuzma, Ingram, Rondo, Stephenson, Beasley, two first round draft picks AND agreed to take on the terrible contract of Solomon Hill.
Fortunately, New Orleans was too angry about the “tampering” by LeBron and his buddy Rich Paul and simply tried to humiliate the Lakers by leaking details of the trade. It had a horrible effect on the team that day as the Lakers lost by 42 to an Indiana team that had lost Oladipo for the year.
Two days later, with the trade deadline expired, the Lakers bounced back. Kuzma’s clutch shooting and Ingram’s incredible defense on Kyrie Irving were huge factors in the Lakers coming back from an 18-point deficit.
New Orleans missed an opportunity to help their team and raze the Lakers franchise, spreading its ashes to the far corners of the league like the Romans did to Carthage after the Third Punic War.
Here are my underlying assumptions, ranging from wildly unbelievable to practically guaranteed, in their exact order of likelihood:
- The Pelicans front office is highly competent. (the most far fetched assumption, given the Omar Ashik contract and all the other ways that Dell Demps has wasted seven years of Anthony Davis.)
- Anthony Davis’ desire to be traded has nothing to do with the incompetence of the Pelicans, but everything to do with LeBron James and Rich Paul tampering with the easily influenced young center. (Considering the Giannis tweets asking AD to join him in Milwaukee, either everyone is guilty or no one is guilty.)
- New Orleans actually wants to get the best value for their trade, not the pupu platter Danny Ainge will end up shoving down New Orleans’ throat while saying it’s filet mignon. (I addressed this point in detail here.)
- Anthony Davis is worth more than Shaq was in 2004, and certainly as much as Kareem Abdul Jabbar was worth in 1975. Kareem was traded for four players: 2-time All-Star Brian Winters (#12 overall pick in 1974), former #3 overall pick Elmore Smith (who was traded after 34 games with the Bucks and turned into two future #1 picks), and two rookies David Meyers (#2 overall pick in 1975 draft) and Junior Bridgeman (#8 overall pick in 1975 draft). That’s four #1 picks for arguably the greatest player in NBA history (sorry, not everybody agrees that Michael Jordan is God).
- The Pelicans, like the rest of the league, hate the Lakers above all other teams, and will do anything to screw the Los Angeles franchise, even if they have been bad for the last five years. (Given the number of times Boston has screwed other teams on deals, and their so called “defensive” style, I can’t figure out why the Celtics aren’t treated with the same disdain.)
- New Orleans wants a shot at Zion Williamson, but trying to do a deal after the lottery will net them far less than they can get right now.
Okay, it’s trade time.
First, let’s look at the assets offered: Lonzo (#2 overall pick), Ingram (#2 overall pick), Kuzma (#27 overall pick), Rondo (#21 overall pick), Beasley (#2 overall pick), Stephenson (2nd round), plus two future #1 picks (assuming the Lakers are great, these picks will be late in the first round).
That’s five first round picks, plus two future first round picks, plus a salary dump.
The big question is whether any one of the three young Lakers players could ever make the All-Star team twice in their career, and a second player to have a 13-year career as a 6th man scorer.
Here are the career stats for the players involved in the Abdul Jabbar trade:
Brian Winters: 16.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.2 stl, .475 FG%
Junior Bridgeman: 13.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.8 stl, .475 FG%
Elmore Smith: 13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.3 stl, .531 FG%
Dave Meyers (played four years, retired early due to back injury) 12.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1 stl, .461 FG%
Here are this season’s stats for the young Lakers players
Lonzo Ball: 9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.5 stl, .406 FG%
Brandon Igram: 16.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.6 stl, .451 FG%
Kyle Kuzma: 18.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.6 stl, .463 FG%
Call me crazy, but I think the young Lakers are going to be better than the guys traded for Kareem. But let’s say you disagree.
The real question is what could you get in return for the players offered, and what is the going price of the assets you want?
Using the Kareem trade as our baseline, New Orleans should get one sure All-Star, one offensively potent 6th man, and an asset that will net a couple of 1st round draft picks.
Look at New Orleans remaining best assets: Jrue Holiday (former All-Star) and Julius Randle, who is playing like an All-Star (averaging 20 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.9 apg, shooting .541 FG%)
Look at what New Orleans needs for their team:
- Holiday wants a point guard to run the offense because of all the energy he puts out on defense. He would be getting back Rondo, the guy who helped him sweep Portland in the first round last year. Check.
- With the Mirotic trade, the Pelicans need a high scoring 6th man. The would get Kuzma, who has a TS% rate of .555, in spite of shooting badly from deep. That means ability to finish at the rim and get to the free throw line is outstanding. His .562 2P% is much better than Jayson Tatum’s (.492) because Kuzma doesn’t take inefficient contested mid range jumpers. If he just regresses to the mean with his 3-point shooting (.366 3P% last year, .311 3P% this year), by shooting about 34%, Kuzma’s TS% will be .573, which matches the level of players like Bradley Beal and Klay Thompson, and he’ll average over 19 ppg. That’s better than any of the current 6th Man of the Year candidates (Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Montrezl Harrell, Derrick Rose). Check
- Two extra first round picks are already included in the trade. Check.
- In spite of his poor shooting, Lonzo Ball is still valued by some coaches and front offices. New Orleans stated that Lonzo would have to be part of any deal for Anthony Davis, and Phoenix was interested in him as well. Phoenix has chosen their franchise center in Ayton to go along with their franchise shooting guard Booker. In addition, they have a number of good young wings in Warren, Jackson, Bridges and Oubre. All they really need is an upgrade at point guard. Lonzo not only is a better rebounder, passer and defender than the young Phoenix guards (Okobo and Melton), he’s actually a better three point shooter than them! Could New Orleans get a shot at Zion Williamson by asking for the Suns’ #1 pick? I believe the Suns would trade their #1 pick and a matching contract for Lonzo. But in the event that they don’t, I think it’s a certainty that they would work out a deal for Lonzo, getting back one of the point guards along with some filler to make the salary, and agree to exchange their #1 pick for one of the Lakers’ #1 picks. Chance for Zion: check.
- The last thing on the check list is an All-Star, and we’ve already seen a deal like that when Tobias Harris got traded to Philadelphia. None of the players the Clippers sent had anywhere near the value of Brandon Ingram. There’s no way the Clipper refuse to send Tobias Harris to the Pelicans in exchange for Ingram, contract filler, two future #1 picks (New Orleans and the Lakers) and a couple of New Orleans second round future picks.
If New Orleans took the Lakers deal and made secondary trades with Phoenix and the Clippers, their team would already be rebuilt, with a better bench, and hoping to get Zion to be their future star big man.
Here’s that potential lineup:
Phoenix #1 pick (about a 14% chance to win the lottery and get Zion)
SG: Jrue Holiday
PG: Rajon Rondo
PF: Julius Randle
SF: Tobias Harris
C: Okafor (temporary fill in until they get a real center
Sixth Man: Kuzma
Bench: Moore (was a starter), Payton (was a starter), Diallo, Clark, Stanley Johnson (traded from Detroit).
The Lakers would have Davis, be stuck with the Solomon Hill contract and have their young players spread out over three teams.
That’s a lot of revenge motivation for Phoenix, New Orleans and the Clippers, and a Lakers team that will need to be completely rebuilt.
[UPDATE] Good Lord, the Clippers are the luckiest team in basketball this year — every good team they’ve beaten has been missing one or two of their star players. It happened again on Saturday, in the second quarter, as Kyrie Irving got injured again and the Celtics blew a 28-point lead.
Irving’s left knee has been surgically repaired. In injury to the other knee is always a concern. If he misses a few games, this could mark fifth time in seven season that he will miss 20 games or more.
Will Danny Ainge pull the trigger on Kyrie at the end of the season?
Will Kyrie just leave in free agency to find a team where he doesn’t have to be the team’s leader and #1 option? His “record” as a leader has been a well documented dumpster fire, as he can’t stop himself from throwing the young players under the bus.
Looking forward to the summer, the most likely scenario is that Ainge will not offer Tatum in a deal for Davis. Boston has had terrible luck signing star free agents only to watch them get injured. Davis is too fragile to take a chance on another star going down with injuries.
If the Lakers can pull themselves together and make the playoffs, the performance of the young core will completely change the narrative surrounding these players. If they win a round, the Davis trade offer will probably be reduced to a choice of two young Lakers, salary filler, one 1st round draft pick and no Solomon Hill contract. If the Lakers get to the Conference Finals, Magic is going to be swinging his dick in Demps’ face and only offer one of the young core.
As I said , sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.