With the Lakers roster likely to stay at 15 now that the team appears comfortable with keeping defensive-minded wing Stanley Johnson on board, there is some speculation that what has become an annual NBA post-trade-deadline parlor game—whom will the Lakers land on the buyout market?—might not be a featured attraction this winter.
Adding to the speculation is the notion that the post-deadline buyout market probably won’t be exactly flush with talent, not with a horde of teams lock in the middle of the pack on the NBA’s playoff picture, and not with the lure of a spot in the league’s play-in tournament looming.
The Lakers could well stand pat with the 15 they’ve got. Right?
Well, to that, NBA executives say: P’shaw!
“There is no doubt, I think, that the buyout market is not going to be what you’d call robust this year,” one GM told Heavy.com. “But it’s not going to be nothing. I think there are a handful of pretty useful players who will be on the market. And the Lakers have LeBron, they will have AD (Anthony Davis) back, and they’re the Lakers. They’re going to be an attraction for veterans. They’ll get someone, it’d be a big surprise if they did not.”
The question, then, is whom to dump for a spot? And another exec in a Western Conference front office, had this to offer: “Wayne Ellington has value. Not a lot of value, you’re not going to get draft picks, but he is someone you could at least move to clear out space, get rid of his contract. He can shoot. We all need shooting.”
Lakers’ Roster Remains Jam-Packed
Assuming that Johnson stays and remains in the rotation, there are limited ways for the Lakers to create roster spots. The first would be a major trade which would involve, realistically, one or both players on a two-player list: Russell Westbrook and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Westbrook will be all but impossible to move, even if the Lakers have at least kicked the tires on a deal, as Sam Amick of The Athletic, among others, have reported. Horton-Tucker, at age 20 and with obvious natural gifts that need honing, would be easier to move and roster spots could be created if he was packaged along with the contracts of little-used players like DeAndre Jordan, Kent Bazemore and/or Ellington.
All three have deals worth $2.6 million, as NBA veteran contracts. Because of NBA rules, only $1.7 million of those deals count against the Lakers’ cap. The Lakers could, thus, simply waive any of the three.
Lakers Are Money-Conscious This Year
But, waived money counts against the Lakers’ luxury tax bill, and it counts exponentially more because of tax escalators. Already, the Lakers are looking at a postseason payout of about $45 million in taxes, which will be distributed to non-tax teams.
The Lakers are a wealthy team, but all teams around the league have been stung financially in the last two years by the pandemic, and for the Lakers, who won a championship in the Orlando bubble, the sting has been particularly tough—the franchise leans on playoff revenue, and there have been only three home playoff games since 2013.
That’s one reason the team declined to bring back Alex Caruso after he got an offer from the Bulls this summer.
So trading end-of-rotation contracts would be far more preferable to waiving them. Problem is, the Lakers would have trouble finding anyone who would even be willing to take on the contracts of Bazemore or Jordan.
Both got significant minutes early on in the season. Jordan was a starter on Day One and held the role through the end of November before L.A. finally gave up on him. Bazemore was in the rotation until mid-November before the Lakers dropped him, too.
And that might have been counterproductive.
“I think a lot of us were surprised they wanted to give Jordan as much of a chance as they did,” the West exec said. “But Bazemore, the more he played the more he was exposed for everything he is not anymore—he can’t defend, he can’t shoot much, he does not have a place in the league, really. So by playing him, they proved that he can’t really play anymore.”
Ellington, though, is a career 38.2% shooting from the 3-point line. He, at least, has a chance to help a team. If the Lakers need a spot, look for him to be peddled on the trade market.