In what was supposed to be a dream season ending with a championship, the Los Angeles Lakers would be happy just to finish above .500 and make the play-in round.
With a frustratingly-mediocre 21-21 record, the Lakers are fighting to remain relevant. No, not just in the championship hunt, but simply in the playoff race. Even as LeBron James puts up MVP-caliber numbers at 37 years old, it’s not enough to turn LA’s season around.
Many think a huge blockbuster is the only way LA salvages its season. That’s not necessarily the case, however. There are a few smaller, realistic moves Rob Pelinka can make in order to greatly improve his disappointing roster.
3. Dump DeAndre Jordan and/or Kent Bazemore
A few of the veterans LA signed to league minimum deals last offseason have panned out. Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony are two such players. DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore are not.
Starting with Jordan, the 33-year-old was brought in to provide finishing, rebounding, and rim protection to a smaller Lakers roster. So far, he’s brought none of those things, having gone from Opening Night starter to a “DNP” reserve out of head coach Frank Vogel’s rotation.
As for Bazemore, LA envisioned him being a traditional 3-and-D player in the starting lineup or off the bench. Instead, the 32-year-old and career 41.4% 3-point shooter is hitting just 32.7% of his shots from distance. He too has largely become a DNP after starting the first 13 games of the season.
The Lakers would love to move on from both of these players. Ideally, they are able to send one or both of them away in a trade, along with some money or even a draft pick to sweeten the pot. If they did that, they’d have the roster space for a trade acquisition or buyout candidate. However they use that space is up to them, but it’d be hard not to upgrade from the disappointing Jordan and Bazemore.
2. Acquire Kenrich Williams from the OKC Thunder
It’s just what Lakers fans imagined back in October. The trade deadline fast approaching, the Purple and Gold going all out for a title push, and the stunning acquisition of … Kenrich Williams?
There’s a method to the madness, don’t worry.
Williams is essentially everything Bazemore is supposed to be. The 6-foot-6 wing is averaging 7.0 points a game on 46.5% shooting in 20.6 minutes for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The fourth-year veteran is also shooting 38.2% from three and is a year removed from shooting 44.4%.
He’s also, more importantly, a very good defender. OKC’s opponents have an offensive rating of just 101.8 with Williams on the floor. But when he’s off, their offensive rating explodes up to 115.7. In other words, the Thunder defense goes from borderline elite to straight-up bad depending on whether Williams is on the court.
Williams is someone who can provide the 3-and-D capabilities LA is currently lacking. And best of all, he can be acquired for next to nothing. For a team like OKC obsessed with collecting draft capital, a future second-round pick and a little bit of cash should be enough for the Lakers to land Williams.
1. Make a push for Robert Covington
The Lakers have been linked to big names like Jeremi Grant and Myles Turner in the last couple of weeks. But with limited trade assets, LA simply isn’t in a position to acquire a game-changing player. However, that doesn’t exclude them from acquiring a steady, productive vet like Robert Covington.
RoCo isn’t the player he once was. But at 31, he still does a little bit of everything on a nightly basis. In 28.2 minutes, Covington is averaging 7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He’s also shooting 40.7% from the field and 35.4% from three, which align fairly close to his career averages.
Covington is a well-respected, veteran leader who could immediately improve LA’s lackluster defense and toughness. While the Portland Trail Blazers hold him in high regard, their season is spiraling downward. Plus, the fact he’s on an expiring contract means Portland would definitely entertain offers.
So what would it take to land Covington, who will be owed about half of his remaining $12.9 million? It likely requires LA to part with Kendrick Nunn, who has yet to play this year after signing a two-year, $10.25 million contract. Nunn would serve as a solid young player for Portland, while also being expensive enough to help the money line up. Meanwhile, LA could also add second-round picks and even a minimum-salary veteran or two.
He’s not the star Lakers fans would be over-the-moon about. But a guy like Covington can provide short-term help in multiple areas at a reasonable cost.