The Los Angeles Lakers are in the precarious position of needing to make a needle-moving trade without much flexibility to do so. At present, 10 of their 15 players are on minimum contracts. They can’t pile enough of those up to match meaningful returning salary — and these aren’t young players teams are clamoring to get their hands on anyway.
There could be one exception: Talen Horton-Tucker.
Tucker, who is on the books for $9.5 million this season, is one of the Lakers’ five non-minimum salary players, and though his trade value has likely declined since this time last season when he was being talked about as something close premium asset, he’s still in relative demand and by far the biggest chip the Lakers have to play.
In the past, the Lakers have been resistant to dealing Horton-Tucker. They kept him out of discussions for Kyle Lowry last season. But it appears they are coming around to the reality that they can’t make a meaningful move without including Horton-Tucker, who, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times, they are now actively shopping ahead of the February 10th trade deadline.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are trying to find help, though their options appear limited. According to people with knowledge of the situation, the team is shopping 21-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker in trade discussions. Rival general managers believe the Lakers value Horton-Tucker, but they lack the mid-range contracts needed to put together a deal to upgrade their roster and understand no significant trade is getting made without him.
Another of the Lakers’ five non-minimum salaries belongs to Kendrick Nunn, who is making $5 million this season. The Lakers could, for instance, put Nunn and Horton-Tucker together with one minimum contract and meet the salary-matching criteria to bring back a Jerami Grant or Harrison Barnes.
Whether the Pistons or Kings would go for such a deal is less certain; it would depend on whether other teams equipped with more attractive assets decided to push in. If Chicago, for instance, were to put Patrick Williams in a deal with Detroit, my guess is that he would be a more desirable young player than Horton-Tucker, who just became trade eligible on January 15.
But that’s all speculation. For now, it sounds like the Lakers are making calls on the only real trade chip they have. We’ll see how far it gets them over the next few weeks.