Lakers trade deadline: Missing on Marcus Morris hurts, but Darren Collison and buyout options are available
The Clippers won the battle, but the Lakers can still win the war
The Los Angeles Lakers dropped to 0-3 against the Clippers Thursday without even playing a game. The Clippers took their first two battles on the court, and then beat the Lakers off of it by outbidding them to acquire versatile forward Marcus Morris in a trade with the New York Knicks. The move was a double whammy for the purple and gold. The Lakers sorely needed Morris to serve as a primary defender against Kawhi Leonard in a potential playoff series against the Clippers. Now, not only do they not have him, but they'll have to face him when they go head-to-head with the Clippers in the postseason.
That was the general tenor of a trade deadline that saw several potential Lakers competitors improve while Rob Pelinka stood pat. Philadelphia and Miami fortified their benches for potential deep playoff runs. Houston took a bold step towards becoming the smallest team in NBA history. Even Denver swung a minor deal for Jordan McRae. As well as the Lakers have played, they aren't close to flawless, and watching them sit out the deadline entirely raises serious questions about their own internal projections. Do the Lakers think they can stand up to the Clippers and Bucks, two teams against whom they are winless, in their present state with no additions?
The honest answer may well be no, but nothing present at the trade deadline could have changed that. The Lakers did pursue Morris, but the Knicks asked for not only Kyle Kuzma, but Danny Green as well as salary filler. Green might be more valuable on his own than Morris, and there were other ways for the Lakers to aggregate enough salary to make a deal work, so such a deal would have been unpalatable. Many of the ball-handlers they pursued, such as Derrick Rose and Bogdan Bogdanovic, weren't moved at all, and as helpful as Andre Iguodala might have been, having him for a year or two wasn't worth the next decade of Kuzma's career.
Perhaps a deadline deal existed that would have made the Lakers tangibly better, but based on what has been reported so far, it seems as if anything actually on the table would have made them worse. The beauty of the buyout market is that virtually no mimimum free agent contract is ever going to make a team worse, but there are several players on the market that could make the Lakers substantially better.
The obvious one is Darren Collison. A Los Angeles native who would have earned eight figures if he'd simply signed a new contract in July, the Lakers actually when the former Pacers point guard retired ahead of free agency. Had the Lakers pursued him at the time, signing him would have been expensive enough to impact their other potential moves.
But now Collison is rethinking his decision to retire, granting the Lakers a chance to add a player who makes more sense with its current roster than perhaps anyone on the trade market. The Lakers need a point guard who can run pick-and-roll when LeBron James sits and hit 3-pointers when he's on the floor. Collison led the NBA in 3-point percentage during the 2017-18 campaign and was in the 67th percentile or higher in terms of pick-and-roll points per possession in each of his three final seasons. There wasn't an available point guard on the trade market who does both quite that well, and even if there were, the Lakers likely couldn't have afforded him.
Filling the 3-and-D wing hole they sought Morris for figures to be substantially more difficult, but options may yet present themselves. Charlotte has no reason to retain Marvin Williams at this point. He has shot nearly 38 percent from behind on the arc since joining the Hornets, and at least has the physical profile to hang with the Clippers' wings for short stretches. A potential Michael Kidd-Gilchrist buyout could at least solve the defense problems. If Minnesota, suddenly replete with guards, wanted to buyout Allen Crabbe, his shooting might be welcome in Los Angeles.
Such options hardly carry the overwhelming appeal of Collison, but they come with none of the risk of the trade market. The Lakers, at 38-11, have no appetite for risk at the moment. They don't want to try to fix what they don't believe is broken. Instead, they'll collect what free value they can and trust that the players that have made them the best team in the Western Conference are good enough to keep them there.
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