With the NBA’s second-worst record, the Hornets are one of the few NBA teams without the ability to even pretend like they have a chance of sneaking into a play-in game. And as a wholeheartedly tanking team, the Hornets will likely attempt to sell off every player that isn’t nailed to the floor and/or part of their long-term plans. And if the Lakers truly do not have an NBA scouting department, then Friday night in Los Angeles may have been the Hornets’ best chance to entice the Lakers into swinging a deal with them before February’s deadline.
If the two teams are indeed on their way to completing a deal this season, there’s probably only one player that the Hornets wouldn’t be at least willing to discuss dealing. Other than LaMelo Ball, the Hornets should make everyone available for the right price.
Whether the Lakers can, should, and will pay that price is another question entirely. It’s worth remembering that the Hornets’ GM, Mitch Kupchak, was once the Lakers’ own, and may be less willing to give a discount to the franchise that showed him the door at the end of the 2017 season. If the two teams can find common ground, the Hornets have a handful of players that can
If the Lakers are going to trade for Gordon Hayward, the deal will necessarily have to include Russell Westbrook, assuming both LeBron James and Anthony Davis are out of the deal. Otherwise, the Lakers lack the composite salary to match Hayward’s $60 million owed throughout this season and next.
Also, based on the 32-year-old’s dwindling abilities to (1) stay on the floor; and (2) be a real difference-maker when he is, acquiring Hayward is probably incongruous with the Lakers’ goals. Further, owing Hayward $30 million next season would gum up any dreams of using cap space on a star in free agency next offseason, so acquiring Hayward makes little sense as of now.
The only trade concept that’s even slightly conceivable would be one where the Lakers can get off of Russell Westbrook’s expiring deal without using any draft picks in return for Hayward and at least another player or two to make the salaries match. Still, based on the Lakers’ reluctance to make any move that limits their flexibility moving forward without making them immediate contenders, a trade for Hayward seems relatively inconceivable at this point.
Although Terry Rozier is probably one of the names most frequently linked to the Lakers since they started searching for answers to their Westbrook problem, he’s in the first year of a four-year, $96 million extension. At 28 years old, Rozier probably won’t be much different from a player by the time his current deal expires, but he’s probably not worth the price of admission regardless of how much you might believe in his abilities as a shot-creator.
As the league’s 57th highest-paid player, and the 16th highest-paid point guard, Rozier is earning checks like a high-level starter on a contender, which is light years away from where impact metrics typically have him pegged — above average-to – abysmal.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Of Charlotte’s established veteran corps, Oubre probably makes the most sense for the Lakers. He’s a legitimate 3-and-D wing, and at 6’6”, he’d match Juan Toscano-Anderson and Troy Brown Jr. as the tallest perimeter players on the Lakers not named LeBron, with at least four more inches of wingspan than either of those two.
Also, he’s a class above both in terms of strength, athleticism, and shooting, which would help the Lakers play bigger without capsizing offensively. Although Oubre’s only shooting 30.8% from three on 7.4 attempts per game this season — and per B-Ball Index, he’s taken tougher ones than 63% of the NBA this season.
And perhaps most importantly, he’s on a deal for just $12 million, meaning the Lakers could easily match his salary without having to deal with the mess of formulating a deal around Westbrook by swapping Oubre for Pat Bev.
If the Lakers can snag Oubre for anything less than a first round pick, they should jump at the opportunity to do so. But given the state of the Hornets’ roster, giving up Oubre would cripple their already bad team. He’s taking a career-high 17.8 shots per game, and more than any other Hornet other than LaMelo and Rozier, while playing in all but one of the team’s games this season. If the Hornets are in true fire sale mode, the Lakers should pounce on the opportunity to acquire a dependable two-way forward in Kelly Oubre Jr.
In the final season of his rookie-scale contract, the Hornets will have a decision to make with PJ Washington this offseason. Either extend him the qualifying offer of just over $7 million, making him a restricted free agent, or see him potentially walk in unrestricted free agency.
Now, Washington’s played in as many games in Oubre and started all of them, and is scoring more than ever (15.0 points per game), but is doing so with the worst shooting efficiency of his career (34.2% on threes; 49.6 effective field goal percentage).
As a 6’7″ small-ball big, Washington doesn’t quite solve the Lakers’ need for wings, but could be useful as a merely playable forward, a player-type the Lakers severely lack outside of their big two. Still, whether Washington makes sense for the Lakers depends largely on Charlotte’s internal opinion of him and how they plan to handle his potential extension this offseason.
Finally, Jalen McDaniels is easily the most unproven Hornet in the presumptive sale section, but presents intriguing upside for a relatively low price tag. Earning just under $2 million in the final year of his own rookie-scale deal, the Lakers could easily match his salary with any of their own minimums.
However, his availability is – like with Washington – entirely tied to what Charlotte has planned for him. Still, unlike Washington, McDaniels will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season no matter what the Hornets do. So, if the Hornets think he will walk or are not interested in including him in their future, it may be worth wringing any value they have out of their former second round draft pick while they still can.
McDaniels, brother of Jaden (and cousin of Juwan Howard!), is rough around the edges, but has the potential to grow into exactly the kind of complimentary piece the Lakers need. He’s shooting well from deep on mostly open looks (36.4% this season, 36.1% career), and grades out as a decent perimeter defender.
He lacks the athletic pop of his former first-rounder brother who is blossoming into one of them NBA’s best perimeter defenders with some low key slashing upside, but he could be obtainable on a bargain, and even that might be more than the Lakers can afford right now. If the Hornets would swap McDaniels for a minimum and a second rounder, he’s the kind of player who could provide the Lakers with a bit more athleticism on the wing, even if he’s not the kind of player that will radically alter their destiny.
If Charlotte makes everyone on their roster available, the Lakers should first target Oubre, inquire about Washington and McDaniels, and pass on Hayward and Rozier. And since literally every player could be in play, there are a few other names worth checking on.
Cody Martin, like McDaniels, is a wing with an NBA brother, but is just now nearing the latter part of his at least six-week absence after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. As a solid shooter and defender, Martin might be as good or better of a fit than Oubre, but is in the first year of a four-year, team-friendly $31 million deal. The Hornets will likely retain him through at least this season, and the Lakers need healthy bodies.
The Hornets also have a handful of recent draft picks getting little-to-no burn on their already bad team, but the Lakers don’t have minutes to burn on hypothetical NBA players like JT Thor, Kai Jones, or James Bouknight — if Charlotte would even want to pull the plug on those guys this early in their careers.
It’s hard to know exactly what the Lakers are planning these days, or if there is even a coherent plan, but if they do make a move before the deadline, expect talks with Charlotte to heat back up involving a mix of the names above.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley. No, he’s not a Cowboys fan either. You can follow him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.