While Los Angeles Lakers fans’ sentimentality certainly took a hit on Thursday with the trade that sent beloved franchise figure Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets, from a pure basketball analysis there is no questioning that the Lakers improved.
Upgrading from the 37-year-old Fisher to the 25-year-old Ramon Sessions to better equip the Lakers to contend with the league’s wave of dominant point guards (one of whom, Chris Paul, they intended to have on their team of course) made it a pretty successful day regardless, but the Lakers came ridiculously close to landing Michael Beasley as well.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the Minnesota Timberwolves backed out of a three-team deal also involving L.A. and the Portland Trail Blazers at 11:53 a.m. PT, just seven minutes before the noon PT deadline. The trade that was in place would have sent Fisher to Minnesota and the Lakers’ first-round pick acquired in the Lamar Odom trade with the Dallas Mavericks back in December to Portland. Portland, already engaged in a full-fledged fire sale, would have sent Jamal Crawford to Minnesota and the Timberwolves would have sent Anthony Tolliver to Portland. Minnesota would have also been receiving cash considerations from both L.A. and Portland as well.
But, Minnesota owner Glen Taylor and general manager David Kahn pulled out of the deal at the last minute (well, eighth-to-last minute), leaving L.A. officials “puzzled and disappointed” according to a source. Who knows what changed Minnesota’s mind. Maybe it didn’t feel comfortable being on the hook for $3.4 million for a 38-year-old Fisher in 2012-13. Maybe it was concerned that Crawford would opt out of his relatively bargain price of $5 million for next season. L.A. didn’t have time to wallow in the uncertainty trying to figure out the answer. Instead, it scrambled to put together a secondary deal with the Rockets before the trade deadline passed.
Ironically enough, the Rockets were one of the Lakers’ dance partners (along with the New Orleans Hornets) in the vetoed Paul trade back on the eve of training camp. The Rockets took Fisher and the Lakers’ first rounder and sent back 24-year-old big man Jordan Hill, a former lottery pick by the Knicks, in exchange.
Beasley, an athletic and offensively gifted 6-foot-10 forward, would have filled the void left by Odom as the Lakers’ primary bench scorer. Even though he would have required a financial commitment from the cap-conscious Lakers, it was a calculated risk. If he worked out as a rental player for the remainder of the season, this offseason Los Angeles could have extended him a qualifying offer of approximately $8.172 million, making Beasley a restricted free agent and opening the door for him to remain a Laker next season. They could have, however, simply allowed Beasley to enter unrestricted free agency by not extending an offer and let him walk.
But it wasn’t to be. Minnesota pulled out, for whatever reason, and L.A.’s great trade deadline day was downgraded to merely very good.
Here are some other tidbits to consider, gleaned from Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak's news conference on Thursday as well as from conversations with others familiar with the Lakers' plans leading up to the trade deadline:
• The Sessions deal was agreed upon in principle on Wednesday afternoon. Once that deal was in place, the Lakers pushed to get the Beasley deal in line as well. Beasley had been on the Lakers' radar since December as L.A. wanted to follow the Paul deal by adding Beasley much the same way this time around the Lakers wanted to follow Sessions with Beasley.
• Despite reports to the contrary (including my own), a source familiar with the Lakers' thinking insists that Steve Blake was never being considered in the three-team deal. It was always Fisher. There was genuine concern with how Fisher would handle losing his starting role to Sessions. He had a streak going of 416 consecutive starts. He was half responsible for there ever even being a season in the first place as president of the National Basketball Player's Association. He had teamed with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt to win five championships. It's just not easy to bench a guy like that.
• While the Lakers like the fact that Hill balances out their roster and gives them a fifth big man, there is not an expectation he will suddenly move up the depth chart past Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy in backing up starters Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That's not to say that the Lakers wouldn't be pleasantly surprised if he came in and competed so well in practice that he'd earn playing time in games, but if he doesn't end up being an impact player that's OK with L.A. because his contract is up at the end of the season.
• The Lakers were comfortable with using both their first-round draft picks (one in the Sessions deal and one in the Fisher deal) because they figured their own pick would be somewhere in the early to mid-20s, as they currently have the sixth-best record in the league, and they wouldn't be able to get a player of Sessions' caliber that late even in what's considered to be a stocked draft. As for the Dallas pick, it was top-20 protected and there are currently 11 teams with better records than the Mavs, so L.A. might not have been able to even use it this year. Rather than wait to find out it possibly have to save the pick for the future, the Lakers decided they weren't going to wait any longer in getting younger and quicker at the point guard position.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.