The NBA trade deadline is fast approaching and while the Los Angeles Lakers come out of the All-Star break with the best record in the Western Conference, moves made by competitors in the West and title contenders in the East could leave L.A. searching for a deal before Thursday at noon PT rolls around.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said on Monday that the Mavericks' picking up Caron Butler and the Cavaliers and Celtics both rumored to be after All-Stars Amare Stoudemire and Antawn Jamison has not made the Lakers feel forced to pull off a trade of their own.
There has been interest for weeks from the Lakers front office in acquiring a top-flight point guard to support the 35-year-old Derek Fisher and to quit trying to play Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown in facilitator roles when they are both clearly suited to come off the bench as scorers. Both the Nets' Devin Harris and the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich have been on L.A.'s wish list at one time or another. The Hinrich rumor picked up steam Monday after ESPN.com's Chad Ford outlined a possible three-team deal between Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland that could send Sasha Vujacic along with Tyrus Thomas to the Trail Blazers, the Bulls would receive Adam Morrison along with another expiring contract and a future first-round pick, and the Lakers would end up with Hinrich.
While the underwhelming Vujacic and Morrison have come up small all season and Hinrich's addition would give the Lakers a legitimate second point guard, excellent perimeter defender and reliable outside shooter, there are problems with the deal. First of all, where would the playing time come for Hinrich?
Fisher is firmly entrenched in his starting role. After everything he's been through with Jackson and his recent heroics in the 2009 NBA Finals as concrete evidence of what's left in the 13-year veteran's tank, it's tough to envision Jackson paring down his minutes much more than he already has. Plus, there is the issue of Farmar and Brown, whom Jackson would like to find more minutes for but has a difficult time expanding their roles because Kobe Bryant takes on such a heavy work load at the off-guard spot. Farmar has been prickly in the past about his limited role and this would make him even more of an unhappy camper.
Then there's the issue of a point guard coming in this late into the season and trying to grasp the Lakers' triangle offense. Hinrich has an excellent coaching pedigree playing for Roy Williams at Kansas, Scott Skiles with the Bulls and a summers' worth of experience with U.S.A. Basketball in 2006 under Mike Kryzyzewski, Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan and Jim Boeheim, but the triangle offense is a lot to master for any player, let alone a point guard, with only two months before the playoffs begin.
Then there is the issue of money, which really raises the biggest question mark. L.A. would love to get out from under the $5.5 million it owes Vujacic next season, considering how little the Slovenian guard has produced since the 2008 Finals, but Morrison's $5.3 million expiring contract makes him doubly valuable for the luxury-tax saddled Lakers.
The Lakers total salary is $91.4 million for this season, which is $21.5 million above the $69.9 million luxury tax line. It's a dollar-for-dollar tax for everything spent beyond that figure, meaning Lakers owner Jerry Buss will be sending a $21.5 million check to the league office in the offseason.
The Lakers are in a similarly luxury tax-laden position for next season with the salary cap expected to fall by $5-8 million, taking the tax line down with it by the same amount. They have $84 million committed in salary already for next season, with the possibility of Bryant, Brown, Farmar, D.J. Mbenga and Josh Powell all renegotiating their deals for more money this summer. Even if the team goes deep into the playoffs and comes close to matching the $40 million in revenue the championship team raked in last year, the near $11 million relief from holding on to Morrison's expiring contract is a huge deal when Buss is facing another luxury tax bill of close to $25 million.
Trading for Hinrich means committing to two seasons at an average salary of $8.5 million which not only wipes out the relief that Morrison's contract could provide, but it could put L.A. even deeper into the luxury tax than it already is in 2011-12 if the cap falls by another $5-6 million.
Hinrich, a member of the much ballyhooed draft class of 2003, is in his seventh season, which traditionally has been known as the start of an NBA player's prime. But the 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard is averaging just 10.2 points and 4.4 assists -- his career averages are 13.5 and 5.9 -- while shooting a career-low 38.0 percent from the field.
There are too many questions surrounding this potential deal to think he's the answer for L.A.