Lost in the midst of the hoopla surrounding LeBron James is Talen Horton-Tucker re-discovering his shot. The 21-year-old has provided a jolt to the Los Angeles Lakers over his last two games after weeks without an encouraging outing.
Clearly, Horton-Tucker making shots benefits the Lakers on the court. Though the further removed he is from his slump, the more incentive LA has to trade him for a game-changing star.
Talen Horton-Tucker has snapped his funk with back-to-back solid outings
Like most 21-year-olds in the NBA, Horton-Tucker has experienced some high days and low days.
The third-year guard returned from October thumb surgery with a vengeance. THT dropped 17 points in his debut followed by a season-high 28 points. Though soon after, Horton-Tucker went cold to the tune of single digits in five straight games, including a goose egg in 29 minutes against the New York Knicks.
Through 24 games, Horton-Tucker’s season has been a mixed bag. The former Iowa State Cyclone had 19 points on 50.0% shooting in his final game before entering health and safety protocols. In his first game back, he shot 1-of-13 overall and 0-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Over a seven-game stretch starting on December 21, Horton-Tucker missed all 16 of his 3-point attempts and averaged just 7.4 points a game. But now LA is getting the efficient THT once again.
Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings, Horton-Tucker scored 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, even hitting his first 3-pointer since December 12. Then on Friday, the athletic guard brought in 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting. It’s the first time he scored 40 or more combined points across two games since November 14-17, his first three games of the season.
Horton-Tucker is building up his already-high trade value
Signed to a three-year, $30.8 million deal in the offseason, Horton-Tucker is expected to be a major factor for the Lakers. That being said, no other player on the roster is as appealing as he is for a rebuilding club.
The trio of LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook all make $35 million or more this season. The rest of LA’s roster is mostly comprised of older players signed to veteran minimum deals; players such as Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Avery Bradley. Others like Austin Reaves and Stanley Johnson are earning even less.
That leaves the 26-year-old Kendrick Nunn and Horton-Tucker as the two players LA would most likely dangle in a trade.
Nunn is a former Rookie of the Year finalist signed to a two-year, $10.25 million contract. But a bone bruise has prevented him from suiting up all season. Meanwhile, THT has played and shown signs of being a future building block for interested suitors, especially after his last two games.
Both Horton-Tucker and Nunn have youth and potential on their side, making them more appealing than guys like DeAndre Jordan or Kent Bazemore, two vets LA would love to be rid of. Their contracts also make them more logical trade pieces, as any high-priced veteran the Lakers add would require THT, Nunn, or both going the other way for salary reasons.
Should the Lakers keep Horton-Tucker or trade him?
With the NBA trade deadline fast approaching, the Lakers face a daunting decision. With Horton-Tucker playing better and the team winning four straight, do they hold firm and assume the roster is good as is? Or do they use the 21-year-old as the key piece necessary to acquire another All-Star-caliber player?
Certainly, there are arguments to be made on both sides. Trading a 21-year-old Horton-Tucker would net LA a pretty good player, such as the Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant or Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner. Considering LeBron is 37 years old, the championship window won’t be open for long. Parting with THT for Grant or Turner is the win-now move the Lakers may need to consider.
On the flip side, Horton-Tucker is an incredibly young player receiving 30+ minutes on a team with high championship expectations. It stands to reason the promising young guard will only get better. So even if the Lakers fall short of their goals in 2021-22, they could potentially have a better, star-caliber version of THT as soon as next season. Not to mention, he’d be cheaper than most players LA would otherwise trade him for.
If Horton-Tucker can continue to prove that his slump is behind him, the Lakers will be much closer to contending. But in turn, the idea of trading him will become more tempting.