The Los Angeles Lakers fell to 15-16 last night in a 103-99 loss at home to the Philadelphia 76ers. Los Angeles is now 9-9 since coach Mike D’Antoni took over the team. D’Antoni deserves some of the blame for the Lakers below-average play since he arrived but at some point the Lakers front office must realize that the team as it stands is not fit to win a NBA championship. Yes, they start four future Hall of Famers but it’s not entirely the offense that is preventing them from winning games, it’s the defense. Granted, the offense isn’t producing at its max potential but the simple fact is that the Lakers will not make a coaching change until the end of the season, if at all. With that said the Lakers must go out and get young defensive minded players that, at the same time, can add more value to the offense than players like Darius Morris and Pau Gasol.
As they stand, the Lakers sit in 10th place in the Western Conference. With 51 games left in the season, Los Angeles must go roughly 35-16 to end the season, an almost 70% winning percentage, to finish in fifth or sixth place in the West. A sixth place finish would mean a matchup with the current third place San Antonio Spurs or Los Angeles Clippers who sit a half a game in front of the Spurs. If the Lakers were to play the Spurs or the Clippers in a 7-game series today, they would lose handily to both teams. Remember, that is the best case scenario, to finish in fifth or sixth place in the West. Any result worse than winning 70% of their remaining games and the Lakers will face the first-place Thunder or the Clippers/Spurs in the first round. In order for the Lakers to reach that feat, and put themselves in a good position to make the second round, much less the Finals, the Lakers must go out and make a trade to improve their defense before the February 21 trade deadline.
There are a handful of players that would fit the Lakers needs and are concurrently on the trade block. The only players Los Angeles can afford to let go of and that have value are Pau Gasol, Chris Duhon, and Antawn Jamison. Paul Millsap has been rumored to be on the trading block and he would fit the Lakers offense perfectly. Millsap is a power forward that puts up numbers similar to Pau Gasol but plays much better defense. He can defend in the low-post and can get up and down the floor easily, unlike Gasol. Millsap to Los Angeles also makes sense financially as Gasol is due $19 million this year and $19.2 million next year. Like with Gasol, teams have been hesitant to trade for Millsap as he is due to make $8.6 million this season.
Another player that would fit in LA is Orlando Magic guard J.J. Reddick. Reddick has been a pest for the Lakers ever since he entered the NBA in 2006 out of Duke. Reddick has always been known for his ability to shoot the basketball with unlimited range, but he has recently added the ability to create his own shot. Reddick is also a very solid defender, and is a high energy player that could help pump some life into the lackadaisical Lakers. The Lakers would not make a trade that would have Gasol and Reddick as the main pieces so a trade would involve multiple players, maybe a big man like Nikola Vucevic who is having a great start to the season in Orlando. Adding Reddick to the starting lineup would give the Lakers a scoring threat at every position, that’s assuming either Antawn Jamison or Jordan Hill would take over the four spot.
Andrea Bargnani is perhaps the player most likely to be traded from his team before the deadline. Bargnani has been extremely vocal to the media about his unhappiness in the city of Toronto and the performance of his Raptors’ squad. Bargnani is a legit 7-footer that can shoot the ball. He is not known for his rebounding but he is athletic, so he can guard smaller, quicker power forwards and centers. Of course, these talents fit perfectly in the D’Antoni system: shooting ability, ability to space the floor and willingness to run the court.
The trade deadline is still a month and a half away but the Lakers cannot afford to waste time and continue hovering around .500 for much longer. They will have to play exceptional basketball just to finish in the lower half of the Western Conference. The Lakers have two choices, either make a coaching change for the second time this season or make a trade to improve their roster. Lakers’ fans should expect the latter.
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