Injury to Anthony Davis: Here are five big guys the Lakers might target on the trade market to fill in for the injured star.
It’s never a good moment to lose an All-NBA centre, but Anthony Davis‘ latest injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Los Angeles Lakers. Because of the NBA’s current COVID-19 epidemic, frantic clubs are snatching up every good free agent, the Lakers won’t be able to quickly locate a replacement centre while Davis heals for the next month or two. Their own internal alternatives aren’t extremely tempting. DeAndre Jordan had lost his position in the rotation for good cause before being resurrected by desperation. Dwight Howard is sitting on the sidelines owing to NBA health and safety regulations. Jay Huff, a two-way rookie, has only played 13 minutes this season.
The Lakers’ only saving grace is the date on the calendar. The bulk of NBA players are now trade-eligible, with December 15 behind them. The Lakers lack the assets and salary to pull off a blockbuster for a new centre, but beggars can’t be choosers. A consistent 15 minutes in the frontcourt every night would be quite beneficial right now. So, let’s see what’s out there right now on the trade market for a package of second-round choices and little matching money (let’s assume no more than two minimum-salaried Lakers go out, allowing the Lakers to absorb about $4.3 million in salary). Given the COVID position that the league is now in, teams may elect to hoard their players and avoid transactions altogether until they can more confidently rely on their players to be available. If that’s the case, the Lakers may be out of luck, but these five guys at the very least make sense as potential trade targets.
The pie-in-the-sky objective is shown below. Mitchell Robinson is far too talented to be considered an injury replacement, and the New York Knicks are unlikely to return a package of second-round choices for him, despite his disappointing season. Even if they did, Robinson recently dismissed Rich Paul as his agent, so any front-office power Klutch Sports has would almost certainly be used against him, and he’s having perhaps his worst season as a player after adding 20 pounds in the summer. However, he’s still worth calling for the following reasons:
Nerlens Noel just took Robinson’s starting role in New York. In the front court, the Knicks feature All-NBA power forward Julius Randle, recent draught picks Obi Toppin and Jericho Sims, as well as long-time Tom Thibodeau favourite Taj Gibson.
Robinson has recently expressed dissatisfaction with his job in cryptic postings on social media.
This summer, Robinson will be an unrestricted free agent. Because there is very little budget space available across the league, if he wants to obtain a big contract, he should finish the season with a team that plans to exercise his Bird Rights to keep him. It’s possible it’s the Knicks, but if it isn’t, he’d prefer a trade.
During the pre-draft process in 2018, the Lakers were extensively linked to Robinson. They even made him a promise with the No. 25 overall choice, according to sources. That selection has a tumultuous background, as there was supposedly a split in the front office between Mo Wagner, whom they chose, and Omari Spellman, who was reportedly favoured by Lakers scouts. Robinson was relegated to 36th place.
So… there’s a bit of a haze here. Making a phone call to see whether there’s a fire is worthwhile. If the Knicks put Robinson out there, they’ll almost surely receive more than the Lakers can give, and if Robinson wants a greater offensive role, he’ll probably not find it in Los Angeles. The Lakers, on the other hand, are in desperate need of athletic upside in the frontcourt, and Robinson has plenty of it. He’s also on the verge of signing a new deal, so any team interested in acquiring him can expect him to do everything he can to fit in. Given his customary offensive position as a non-shooting roller and rebounder, Robinson definitely wouldn’t be able to play alongside Davis and Russell Westbrook, but if he regains his previous defensive form, he might make a huge difference on the defensive end of the court.
Damian Jones is number two.
This is when the more realistic targets enter the picture. Last season, the Lakers had Damian Jones in the building for a brief period before releasing him to create room for Andre Drummond on the buyout market. They quickly came to regret their decision. Drummond was unimpressed. Marc Gasol was irritated by his presence. In Sacramento, Jones prospered in a larger position. However, that role has dwindled since then. He’s only played in 14 games for the Kings this season, and now that Tristan Thompson is in town and Marvin Bagley III has resurfaced as a rotation player, the Kings’ frontcourt is shockingly packed. The Kings are certainly at least a week away from even considering a transaction because of the COVID regulations, but if they aren’t going to employ Jones, acquiring a draught selection for him makes a lot of sense.
However, following the Buddy Hield fiasco this summer, the Kings are unlikely to provide a hand to the Lakers. Kings management was said to be “steaming” about their choice to pull out of a transaction that was virtually completed. The NBA is a company built on relationships. As a former agent, Rob Pelinka understands this, and the Lakers have a lot of beneficial partnerships around the league. The Wizards, for example, assisted them in creating maximum cap space in 2020, thus the Lakers returned the favour in 2021 by assisting them in landing Spencer Dinwiddie without receiving anything in return. The Kings may not be inclined to cooperate in this situation.
Mo Wagner is number three.
We’re keeping with former Lakers here, but we’re taking a whole different path. Wagner was a cap casualty as the Lakers tried to clear contract space for the 2020 season, and he’s failed to find work since. His fourth NBA squad, and despite his tiny role, it’s been reasonably steady, and with his brother Franz in place as a key element of Orlando’s future, the Magic are unlikely to trade him for crumbs. Still, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. are obviously ahead of him in the pecking order (when fit), and Robin Lopez is absolutely capable of playing more minutes for the Magic than he has.
Wagner and Jones and Robinson have virtually little in common. Wagner is a stretch centre, whereas the other two are archetypal centres. He’s struggled in that role for the most of his NBA career, but this season he’s shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. While he may not be much of a rim protector, he has latent defensive mobility, so Frank Vogel might find some more creative schematic uses for him. This is the type of big man the Lakers should have had on their bench from the start, with or without Davis. He not only fits in better with Westbrook, but he also contrasts with Howard stylistically. Wagner may give some roster variety for the Lakers, who are in desperate need of it.
Gorgui Dieng, No. 4
Gorgui Dieng was signed by the Hawks primarily to serve as a stopgap centre until Onyeka Okongwu returned. Well… Onyeka Okongwu has back, and Dieng hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in his absence. His role has slowly reduced over the season, and at 30 years old, there’s no knowing how much he still has to offer a winning club. At the very least, the Hawks are unlikely to haggle too much over him. Dealing him would very certainly save them money in the long run.
However, Dieng has already occupied the coveted unicorn role of the shot-blocking big man who can also score 3-pointers on a limited scale. Over the last three seasons, he’s hit about 38% of his long-range tries, while the volume has been rather low. His defence has deteriorated significantly in that time, and if defence is a top priority for the Lakers, they will likely seek elsewhere. However, only a few bargain-basement centres can argue that their finest version of Dieng can play alongside Westbrook and Davis on the floor.
5. Use any Dallas centre that is available.
Jason Kidd may be utilising Kristaps Porzingis at power forward more than Rick Carlisle did in the past, but that doesn’t mean he needs all of his centres. Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are both playing centre, leaving Willie Cauley-Stein, Boban Marjanovic, and Moses Brown with relatively limited minutes. The three have combined to play only 350 minutes less than DeAndre Jordan (314).
The Lakers can’t afford to be choosy in this situation. They may use any of the three to help them. Cauley-agility Stein’s and verticality make him the most intriguing of the three, but if they want to maintain employing small bench units with James and Westbrook maximising spacing, Marjanovic might at least produce some shots in the minutes they need to rest. Brown, who was a double-double machine for the Thunder a year ago, has the greatest potential.