Trade or No Trade, The Lakers Still Run The West

Dec 6, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) and forward LeBron James (23) celebrate late in the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center. The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 136-113. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Will everyone just relax?

The Los Angeles Lakers will be fine.

I understand that Rob Pelinka was virtually a statue in Thursday’s trading frenzy. I understand that several other western conference contenders ostensibly got better. But if you pause to breathe, stretch, shake, and let it go, you’ll see that all the moves that teams made today could best be summed up in a famous Texas colloquialism: “Big Hat, No Cattle” which essentially translates to all talk, no action.

Let me break it down for you:

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets currently hold the record for fourth best offense in the NBA, scoring 118.1 points scored per 100 possessions played. Offense is certainly not an issue for the Nuggets with the trio of MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, the dynamic Jamal Murray, and the ascending scorer in Michael Porter Jr. The defensive side of the ball however, is where there is room for huge improvement. But does the new addition of Aaron Gordon really improve the Nuggets?  Denver ranked 16th defensively last season with arguably a better defender in Jerami Grant. Currently ranked 20th this season, I just can’t see Gordon making a drastic impact on the defensive end of the ball, but his offensive output should be similar or marginally better in comparison to Grant’s. Also, I wonder how malleable Gordon is when it comes to transitioning from a primary role with the Orlando Magic to a significantly reduced one with the Nuggets?

Portland Trailblazers 

Portland inarguably made an offensive upgrade by trading Gary Trent Jr. for Norman Powell. Powell is a better scorer and more efficient threat from the perimeter. Per cleaning the glass, Powell has attempted 255 three-pointers this season. Of those 255 three-point shots, 92 of those attempts have occurred from the corner. In that efficiency-friendly area, Powell is converting 53 percent of those corner three-pointers—placing him in 92nd percentile at his position group. As the Blazers currently rank 8th in three-point percentage and 2nd in three point shots attempted, Powell will be an excellent tertiary option for the Blazers. The combo of Lillard-McCollum-Powell will be offensively lethal but equally underwhelming defensively. Make no mistake about it, Trent Jr’s perimeter defense will be missed in Portland, especially if they run into the Los Angeles Lakers in the post-season again.

Los Angeles Clippers 

5 months ago, I was scared shitless that the Los Angeles Clippers would sign Rajon Rondo, a team catalyst, a basketball version of Yoda, and a general that can seemingly and impossibly galvanize almost any locker room to be the best version of itself.

Now that he’s been traded to the Clippers from the Atlanta Hawks, admittedly my concerns are still there, but they’ve dwindled significantly. Here’s why: The Hawks were 9.2 points per 100 possessions better with Rondo off the court this season. Atlanta also had a -6.2 net rating when he was on the court in 402 minutes, and that was the worst single mark for any rotation player on the team; His turnover rate was higher than it should have been considering that he ranked only 11th in most team minutes played. Finally, the Clippers are notorious for locker room problems and choking in the playoffs when it matters most. Rondo isn’t a guy you want to add to a beleaguered team that still hasn’t quite figured out it’s post-season identity (See 2016-2017 Rondo on the Chicago Bulls). The reason he worked so well with the Lakers last season is because he could function as a co-lead along with LeBron James, one of the best leaders in sports history. But there isn’t a clear leader that has been defined in Clipper land, and with 8 weeks of regular season left, I highly doubt that one will emerge.

 

Bottom Line

The Lakers easily dispatched of the Trailblazers and the Nuggets in 5 games respectively last postseason. Assuming full health with James and Anthony Davis, I expect the same to happen this year in the event that they do meet. If the Clippers happen to face the Lakers, it won’t be a cakewalk, but give me a fully healthy James/Davis combo over Leonard/George any day. But you know what they say about playoff Rondo….

Lakers in 6.