Amidst the most un-Lakersy of seasons, the L.A. Lakers picked up some cheap quality, almost all of it on short term expiring deals. In the wake of the fallout of the remarkably unsuccessful Dwight Howard move, and the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, the Lakers have scrambled to assemble as good of a roster as possible using the very few assets they had.
They had some success with this. The moribund careers of Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry have been rejuvenated, particularly Henry, who prior to a knee injury was a highly productive athletic bench scorer and defender. The Lakers also made the right move in calling up a similarly resurgent Kendall Marshall and signing him through to 2015 - Marshall's newly developed three-point stroke he initially demonstrated in his short time in the D-League has sustained now that he is back in the NBA, where, despite his slow and flat-footed release, he is shooting 47% from downtown alongside his 9.5 assists per game. All three of these players can be considered pieces for whatever the Lakers' future holds, regardless of their contract status.
The Lakers, however, also still have some pieces of their past remaining who can be considered available for trade. Most notably, there remains Pau Gasol, having a second wind of sorts himself. With Dwight out of his way, Gasol is again the main option on the interior, and is responding to the tune of 17.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists in only 32 minutes per game. As his quickness goes, so does his defense, which is becoming positively burdensome on the perimeter. Yet Pau's high IQ and skill level remain, and he remains one of the better offensive centres in the game today.
Pau will be difficult to trade, and difficult to trade for, on account of how expensive he is. He is earning $19,285,850 this season, more than the maximum salary and not an amount easily made up in trade machinations by any team seeking his services. Moreover, the Lakers are said to be demanding a first round pick in addition to this salary matching, which, in this era of heightened awareness of the value of first round picks, seems ambitious for a soon to be 34 year old player on an expiring contract. Nevertheless, the Lakers retain leverage simply by having the quality player, and thus there exists a faint chance of a Pau trade.
There also exists a chance of a Steve Blake trade. Hitherto largely untradeable on account of his large contract and scant little playing time behind Nash, Blake has been the recipient of as many minutes as he can handle this season, and has responded with one of the better years of an up-and-down career. At times playing the off-guard spot in a two point guard lineup with Marshall, Blake is recording 9.5 points and 7.6 assists against only 2.6 turnovers per game as one of the few steadying influences on an extremely confused Lakers rotation.
While his offense is strikingly inefficient (his jump-shooting is as streaky as ever, he is not fast enough to get inside the three-point line without a pick, and he is ineffective should he get there due to his slender size and lack of hops), Blake's high IQ, passing vision and occasional shooting bursts make him an effective role player in a smaller role, and his defense is not as woeful as assumed - without physical tools, and whilst all too easily wiped out on screens, Blake moves his feet well enough to compete on man to man defense. With his contract expiring, Blake might be movable for a late second round pick or just for luxury tax savings, a decent alternative option to any team unable to land the surprisingly highly coveted Luke Ridnour.
Chris Kaman must also be considered a candidate for a deadline day trade. Slower than he was - and he was never fast - Kaman nevertheless remains a polished and productive big man, a legitimate scoring threat with post moves in the paint and decent touch from the midrange, a talented passer with good court vision for cutters and re-feeds, and an unafraid defender with the size and shot blocking instincts to protect the rim and whichever spot he happens to be standing in.
Kaman's declining agility renders him something of a liability when defending the perimeter and exposable in isolation situations, and his lack of explosive sees him defer to the midrange jumper to the post all too often, yet having some weaknesses does not belie his underappreciated impact on the game, as evident in his career high PER (17.65) this season. The one time All-Star had fallen away in the court of public perception due to multiple injuries and a poor, out of character season with the Mavericks, yet he has normally been effective as a player when he is able to take the court. This remains true of this season, and with his one-year, $3,183,000 deal, the Lakers secured a quality rental player at a very good price that they may now seek to pass onto others. Every team, after all, needs a high quality center for $3 million.
The far more likely deal, though, appears to be one involving Jordan Hill, an oft-undervalued NBA player. Hill has developed year on year and is now a highly productive bench big man who is the ideal third big in a three man rotation, but also perfectly capable of starting.
He is a hugely productive rebounder, both defensive and offensive, with his energy, fluid athleticism, instincts and decent hands, and whilst not a creator offensively, he is a finisher both around the basket and from mid-range. He is also the Lakers' best perimeter defensive option amongst their big men, rotating quickly and effectively, effective on switches and pick and rolls, and he also protects the basket fairly well, too. Save for a slightly concerning injury history, Hill has few weaknesses in his game and has rounded out into an extremely capable and undervalued role player, one the Lakers perhaps undervalue.
Mike D'Antoni's long assumed distrust of Hill may be a factor in the current rumour that sees the Brooklyn Nets mentioned as a candidate for Hill. Reportedly, Brooklyn are prepared to use the disabled player exception they received after Brook Lopez's injury to acquire him. The DPE allows teams to sign a player for a full or part season, or to trade for a player in the final season of their contract, which Hill is.
However, the received player nevertheless counts against the salary cap and luxury tax calculations of the recipient team, and, as has often been documented, Brooklyn's luxury tax commitments are substantial. In a hypothetical scenario whereby they take on Hill's salary without sending any salary outgoing, Brooklyn's luxury tax bill after taking on Hill's $3.5 million salary skyrockets from $84,829,936 to $100,934,929, a $16 million tax increase plus $1 million in additional salary totalling a $17 million expenditure from a man currently coming off the bench behind Shawne Williams. This would mean a very different valuation of Hill by the Nets to that of the Lakers.
If a team is willing to pay that to get him, maybe the perennially underrated Hill is finally valued. The Nets might pay it if they think he can be the saviour to their season. And maybe he can. Every team needs quality bigs for only $3 million, and the Lakers have two to deal. If Hill in particular is not dealt, it had better be because he is to be re-signed