The Los Angeles Lakers have exactly five players making more than the veteran's minimum this season: All-Stars LeBron James (earning $41.2 million this year) and Anthony Davis ($35.4 million), ex-All-Star Russell Westbrook ($44.2 million), guard Kendrick Nunn ($5 million), and guard Talen Horton-Tucker ($9.5 million).
Nunn, still recovering from a bone bruise, has yet to suit up for a single regular season game this year. Zach Lowe and Dave McMenamin indicated that the 26-year-old is "not close" to a return in a recent podcast. Westbrook has severely underperformed this season and, despite my various trade ideas after the first game of the year (I was right to want to move him, by the way), seems likely to at least stick around with Los Angeles this season.
So that leaves Nunn and Horton-Tucker. Until Nunn can string some solid games together, he may be tougher to off-load. Let's look at some THT trade ideas. Horton-Tucker, who just turned 21 in his third pro season, inked a fully-guaranteed three-year, $30.8 million agreement with LA during the 2021 offseason.
This year, the 6'4" guard out of Iowa State is averaging 10.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game for LA. Though he could eventually become a solid defender, he has yet to prove himself on that side of the floor, and upon closer examination, his offense leaves a lot to be desired, too. This year, he's been getting plenty of chances to show what he can do, and he's clearly still going to be a work-in-progress for a while. THT is connecting on just 37.7% of his 10.6 field goal attempts and 28.6% of his 3.5 three-point looks. The only positive shooting stat: he's making a whopping 95% of his 2.0 free-throws a night. Keep in mind, too, that, when Avery Bradley is healthy, he gets the starting shooting guard honor ahead of Horton-Tucker. Primarily, this is a function of THT's defensive liabilities, though Bradley is also a more reliable three-point shooter (34.9% on 3.0 attemp). Bradley was only claimed by the Lakers after being waived by the Golden State Warriors in training camp, and is currently on a non-guaranteed deal until January 7th. And yet he's more valuable to winning than THT is right now!!
Because Talen Horton-Tucker signed his new contract during the offseason, he's only eligible to be traded once the NBA calendar rolls over to January 15th, 2022, after the Lakers re-signed him using his Bird Rights. There's still plenty of upside with Horton-Tucker, but because his current contributions are fairly unreliable, he's best suited to a rebuilding club who can afford to wait. The Lakers do not fit this description. But I can think of a few teams in Texas who might.
Prepare for some piping hot takes. LA fans could loathe the suggestion that THT might not actually be any good, now that the Lakers finally need him to step up. But it's a possibility.
I, uh may have gotten a tad overzealous with some future draft equity.
Rockets Receive: Talen Horton-Tucker, 2023 second-round pick via Chicago. Lakers Receive: Daniel Theis, Kenyon Martin Jr.
Adding the 6'8" Theis, who's primarily a center but can defend either frontcourt position , would allow Anthony Davis to avoid the wear and tear that the center spot demands during the regular season. The athletic son of ex-Nets/Nuggets/Knicks center Kenyon Martin is a 6'6" small forward with upside of his own who can replace THT as the Lakers' intriguing next-gen prospect who can slot into the otherwise-very-old rotation as a deep-bench perimeter option this year. Theis is averaging a fairly modest 8.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in 15 games so far for Houston.
Martin is a career 35% three-point shooter in two NBA seasons (he's struggled this year from deep, but he's still shooting better from there than THT) and a dedicated interior slasher. The 21-year-old is averaging just 6.5 points (on 52.0% shooting from the field) and 3.1 rebounds for Houston in a backup role this year. Given more minutes and touches, the promise is there. In a larger role last season, Martin averaged 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 0.7 steals across just 23.7 minutes a night, while shooting 50.9% from the floor, 36.5% from deep (on 2.1 looks) and 71.4% from the charity stripe.
Spurs Receive: Talen Horton-Tucker, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, 2023 second-round pick via Chicago. Lakers Receive: Doug McDermott.
The big downside to this deal is that the Spurs have a zillion intriguing young guards, so they may not have much incentive to add yet another one. Then again, it's not like the 6-13 club is going anywhere this season, playoff-wise. A trade for Horton-Tucker by the San Antonio brain trust of R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich would be contingent on that tandem believing in Horton-Tucker. Monk, too, is a pretty valuable asset, having signed to a discount deal to join what he thought would be a championship-caliber LA roster. A 35.8% three-point shooter (on 4.7 looks a night) this year, Monk has also proven to be a costly defensive sieve.
McDermott, 29, is a switchy tweener forward who continues to grow as an off-ball cutter. At 6'7" and 225 pounds, McDermott has legitimate size and is at least a competent defender (unlike Tucker or Monk). He could fit in as a high-level offensive piece across a variety of Laklineups. An elite jump shooter (he is averaging 44.8% from the field and 43.9% on 4.8 attempts from three-point range, though his free-throw percentage at low volume has been underwhelming), he would instantly become the Lakers' fourth-best player. The Spurs would probably waive at least Bazemore after the transaction. Bazemore has been disappointing on both sides of the ball this season. The 6'4" wing has fallen out of LA head coach Frank Vogel's healthy rotation, and has been a healthy scratch in six of the club's last ten contests.
Thunder Receive: Talen Horton-Tucker, 2023 second-round pick via Chicago. Lakers Receive: Derrick Favors.
Like the hypothetical Theis deal outlined above, the Lakers would upgrade the center position with this swap. They wouldn't exactly be trading The 6'9" Favors, still pretty athletic at age 30, can play at either frontcourt spot, though due to a lack of floor spacing he would most likely be primarily utilized at center on offense and could switch assignments on defense. Favors is averaging an underwhelming 5.8 points and 5.0 rebounds, but would still be a significant upgrade, especially defensively, over the current corpse cadre (DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard) the Lakers are employing to patrol the paint.
He has offensive upsidThis season, Favors is an elite shooter around the rim (62.1%) and a very good midrange jump shooter for a big guy (58.8% between 10-16 feet). He is somewhat overpaid, yes, but Derrick Favors would still be a huge improvement at a position of need who could greatly help LA's frontcourt depth.
Okay okay, the Lakers probably wouldn't have to throw in that 2023 second-rounder to sweeten the pot. But Favors would be a big improvement over Dwight and DJ.