If the Los Angeles Lakers want to make any significant changes to their roster, they will have to do it soon.
The NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching, and teams won’t be allowed to make deals after 3 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, Feb. 21. The Lakers have underachieved this season, and are currently out of the playoffs.
Throughout the season, several of the team’s stars have been at the center of different trade rumors. General manager Mitch Kupchak recently stated that the team wouldn’t deal any of its principal players, and are committed to winning with their collection of stars. That, however, hasn’t stopped speculation about L.A. dealing part of its starting lineup.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been reports that the Lakers might move Pau Gasol. Los Angeles had previously tried to include him in a packaged deal for Chris Paul, but commisioner David Stern eventually vetoed the trade.
Now, Gasol is in the midst of his worst season as a pro. He is averaging career lows with 13.4 points and 45.3 percent field goal shooting. The seven-footer hasn’t meshed well with Mike D’Antoni, who hasn’t utilized his ability to score inside. Gasol has become an extremely expensive bench player, and could make a bigger impact in several teams’ starting lineups. Currently inactive due to a foot injury, Gasol has publicly stated that he wants to remain with the Lakers.
Earlier in the year, there were rumors that Gasol could be traded to a team like the Toronto Raptors or Minnesota Timberwolves. With the big man’s diminishing trade value, though, a deal doesn’t seem likely by the deadline. There’s a better chance that Gasol will be moved in the offseason.
Alongside Gasol in the frontcourt, Dwight Howard has also struggled. The center doesn’t seem to be fully healed from the back surgery that he underwent last April and has also been hampered by shoulder problems. The Lakers entered the season with high hopes that Howard would improve the team's defense, but L.A. finished 15th in opponents scoring last season, and are currently 23rd.
Howard will be a free agent in the summer, and the Lakers could, at least, explore the idea of trading the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Los Angeles can offer Howard the most money, but he may not stick around if the team continues to lose.
The Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks will all look to sign Howard in the summer. All three should have enough money under the salary cap to offer the All-Star a maximum contract, and could be attractive options for Howard with their surrounding pieces. Howard also has had a tumultuous relationship with Kobe Bryant, stirring more speculation that he may leave in the offseason.
The Orlando Magic almost traded Howard to the Brooklyn Nets, and the Lakers could explore a similar deal. ESPN analyst Tom Penn suggested that the club send Howard to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks and a draft pick. Lopez has performed better than Howard this season, and is under contract for the next few years.
Even Steve Nash’s name has been mentioned as a possible trade asset for Los Angeles. A report on ESPN Insider suggested the Lakers and Indiana Pacers could work out a deal, with Nash on his way out of L.A. The trade would involve Danny Granger and George Hill going to the Lakers for Nash and Metta World Peace.
Los Angeles is probably not looking to move Nash, especially since he hasn’t even played 30 games under D’Antoni. A deal might make sense from the Pacers' perspective. With the emergence of Paul George as an All-Star, Granger has become expendable for Indiana, and adding a top point guard could help them compete with the Miami Heat in the postseason.
If Kupchak sticks to his word that he won’t trade one of the team’s key players, the club could make a move for a role player. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Raja Bell is on the team’s radar.
D’Antoni is reportedly interested in the team acquiring the shooting guard, who once played under the head coach with the Phoenix Suns. In 33 games with the Utah Jazz, Bell is averaging 6.4 points on 46.6 percent shooting.
With Howard, Gasol and Nash likely remaining in purple and gold for the rest of the season, a few Lakers bench players could be on the move this week. ESPN.com reported that both Steve Blake and Chris Duhon are available. Blake would have more value on the trade market, and could help a team that is looking for a legitimate backup point guard.
The Lakers have just 28 games remaining, and sit three games behind the Houston Rockets for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.